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What Kawhi Leonard leaving the Spurs means

In this special edition of In The Bonus, the PtR staff offer their opinion on the trade.

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1 - Kawhi Leonard is now a Toronto Raptor. How happy are you with the return the Spurs got?

Bruno Passos: I’m fine with it. The rumored expectations the team had for a return set a high bar that, more than anything, probably served as a starting point for their negotiations. Getting back an All-Star, a promising young player, and a 2019 pick that will likely be in the late 20s satisfies the need to stay competitive while giving them a few more pieces for the future. I’m not as worried as others by the mid-range-loving pairing of DeRozan and Aldridge, because having two high-gravity players on offense is still much better than the solitary force they had last season. It should open things up for the shooters and get the offensive rating closer to top 10 than I think most people realize. Losing Danny Green sucks on a few levels — no one wants to see that kind of teammate and consummate professional get tossed in as flotsam — but that happens, I suppose.

Marilyn Dubinski: Satisfied enough, all things considered. DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star, and we have all been waiting for the Spurs to sign a promising, young big man. In that sense, the mission was accomplished. There’s probably no way of knowing if there were better offers out there that the Spurs passed up, but the Raptors may have been the only team willing to give up a bonafide star in the face of Leonard’s health concerns and the probability that he’s just a one-year rental. That being said, I’m sad Danny Green had to be included in the deal, but I guess that’s what had to be done to make the numbers work, plus the starting SG position is now filled. I’m happy the whole saga is over but sad to see Icy-Hot gone with it.

Mark Barrington: Given the circumstances, it’s about as good as you could expect to get. The Raptors are taking a risk on a player who has been unable to perform for over a year and comes with a ton of baggage. Getting an all-star who can create his own shot and a good young center is a decent return. The protected draft pick is a nice bonus. But I really hate that Danny Green is no longer a Spur. It makes sense to deal him on the last year of his contract, but I really genuinely like the guy, and I think he’s just one of the best and most likable people in the NBA. I wish him the best in the Great White North. I raise a Molson in your honor, Danny.

Jesus Gomez: Not happy at all! But I understand why they pulled the trigger. DeRozan is good enough to keep the team relevant for now, which is clearly what the Spurs want. Poeltl is a nice piece on a cheap rookie deal and an extra pick is always helpful. I’m just surprised the Spurs had to include Green (and money) in the deal. I would have been happier had Patty Mills or Pau Gasol had been sent out instead. Unfortunately the entire league knew the Spurs had zero leverage. It’s a bad trade for San Antonio, no matter how you slice it, but it might have been the best one out there.

J.R. Wilco: Half of me is upset that we didn’t get OG Anunoby. The other half is amazed that we found a trading partner at all. As the summer wore on, I was coming to think that KL would be on the team on Opening Day. I wasn’t excited about DmDr at first, but I also didn’t know much about him. After 24 hours to sit on it, he’s growing on me and I’m optimistic about his fit on the team.

2 - Leonard and Green were a formidable defensive pair in the perimeter. How much will the Spurs’ miss them on that end?

Passos: Considerably. The Spurs don’t usually play the kind of defensive schemes other teams do now, with heavy switching. They like to battle through screens, force ball-handlers into tough decisions, and rely on smart, long wings to mix things up. Green and Leonard are two of the best in the league at that, and we should expect a defensive slide of some sort as a result.

Dubinski: They might be hard pressed to be a top-10 defense now, although the addition of DeRozan and a healthier Rudy Gay should offset some of that with a better offense than last season. A team effort and some individual talent like Dejounte Murray and LaMarcus Aldridge should keep the defense from falling off a cliff, but it won’t be what we’ve grown accustomed to.

Barrington: I don’t know if I will miss that. It’s like when you break up with someone and you destroy all of their pictures, because it hurts too much to think of what was and can never be again. It’s like R.E.M. said, It’s the End of the World and I Feel Fine [sob].

The Spurs will be worse on defense this year, but much better at scoring. The stagnant offense of the 2017-2018 will be a bad memory, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

Gomez: They’ll really miss those two, as well as Kyle Anderson. The defense is definitely going to take a step back. DeRozan and Rudy Gay are average at best. We are about to find out how much the Spurs’ system was responsible for the defensive excellence we’ve seen in the past couple of years. If Pop can craft a top five defense with this roster, he’ll run away with the Coach of the Year award.

Wilco: I expect a sizable defensive dropoff, because it’s not just Danny and KL we’re losing, it’s Kyle as well. Not to mention the lock-down defense of the one and only Tony Park— oh, I see I got carried away there. Never mind.

3 - There are currently no true small forwards in the roster. Assuming Rudy Gay starts at that spot, who’s getting the backup minutes?

Passos: Offensively that’s not a big deal, since the Spurs were already going three guards a lot last season in their transition to small ball. It becomes a bigger issue with trying to defend true small forwards who have the size to mix things up down low but can also work along the perimeter. Green, Leonard and Anderson provided an elite level of defensive versatility absent from this roster. Those assignments as of now will fall on guys like Gay, DeRozan and (gulp) Belinelli at times, but it’ll be interesting to see if it’s an area they’ll try to address between now and training camp as the dust settles on the Leonard deal.

Dubinski: Perhaps some combination of Davis Bertans and Dante Cunningham with some Marco Bellineli and (please!) Manu Ginobili sprinkled in? Other options include using the 15th roster spot on what’s left in the scrap heap (even that means not picking up Brandon Paul’s contract), making another trade, or hope someone like Jaron Blossomgame shows he’s worth a shot in training camp.

Barrington: Manu Ginobili. If anyone starts to talk about him retiring, I will stick my fingers in my ears until they stop talking.

Gomez: If Manu returns, he’ll likely get those minutes. That’s not ideal, but he’s feisty and probably better suited to guarding small forwards at this point anyway. If Manu does retire, I can see Pop going with Belinelli or Cunningham, depending on the matchup. Let’s all hope Gay doesn’t get in foul trouble often.

Wilco: I think Pop has plans to go positionless with the 2nd unit much of the time, and perhaps even with his best guys. It’ll be a season of experimentation and 3- and 4-guard lineups might be a regular thing. In that kind of an environment, “Who plays the 3?” becomes a bit of an afterthought.

4 - How good do you expect the Spurs to be next season?

Passos: I still think they should be in the mix for a top-four seed in the West. If everyone’s healthy, that should mean something like 52 wins, even in an uber-competitive conference.

Dubinski: They should be a 50-win team again that makes the playoffs with more ease than last season. The addition of DeRozan will certainly help, and the return of a healthy, happier environment should do wonders. It was obvious how much the entire Leonard saga was weighing on this team as last season progressed, so a fresh start should give the group a boost of confidence. A top-four seed is not outside the realm of possibilities.

Barrington: I expect an improved win total from last year, with the Kawhi drama behind them and improved scoring from DeMar and a healthy Rudy Gay. Dejounte will be better this year, and he’s probably a few years away from being an all star. But with all of the great teams out west, I don’t expect they’ll get past the second round this year unless a lot of strange things happen.

Gomez: I think 45 wins, a low seed and a first round exit is a reasonable prediction. I’d be happy with that, too. I wouldn’t completely rule out them winning 50 if the defense exceeds expectations and either DeRozan or Gay has a career year from beyond the arc.

Wilco: If they win 50, I’ll be ecstatic. If they host a first round playoff series, I’ll have a conniption.

5 - If you could tell Kawhi one thing, what would it be?

Passos: Hey, man. Thanks, anyway. It was still mostly very fun.


Barrington: Communication is key.

Gomez: It didn’t have to end this way.

Wilco: Son, I am disappoint.