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All those Raptors trades continue to pay off — for the Spurs

Toronto should stop doing business with San Antonio if they know what’s good for them.

San Antonio Spurs v Chicago Bulls Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

With free agency directly on the horizon, it’s common practice for me to do a quick Twitter sweep every little while to make sure there isn’t any Spurs news on that front. So far, things are relatively calm, but I did come across one tweet that caught my eye:

Of course, no one is going to send 10 first round picks for any player, let alone one who hasn’t even made an All-Star game. If this is even accurate (I can’t find a tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski mentioning this, but he could have said it on TV), it’s most likely just the Raptors saying OG Anunoby is not for sale unless the offer is too good to pass up. (For reference, Jordan Poole was reportedly not enough.)

Regardless, this got me to thinking, the Raptors still must be looking for some first round picks as they reportedly consider entering rebuild mode, in no small part due to how many they have given up to the Spurs. Here is a quick summary of the three transactions the two teams have made with each other in the last six years:

  • 2018: Spurs send Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first round pick (translated to Keldon Johnson).
  • 2022: Spurs send Thaddeus Young, Drew Eubanks and a 2022 second round pick for Goran Dragic (waived) and a protected 2022 first round pick (translated to Malaki Branham).
  • 2023: Spurs send Jakob Poeltl for Khem Birch, a 2023 second round pick (translated to Sidy Cissoko), protected 2024 first round pick, and a 2025 second round pick.

Slowly but surely, all three of the trades are trending towards the Spurs being the winners, if they aren’t there already. At first, 2018 wasn’t in the Spurs’ favor — although in fairness, they were never going to come out as immediate winners when having to trade what was then a top-5 player in the NBA under such tumultuous circumstances, not to mention the Raptors got a championship out of it. Still, the Spurs managed to extend their playoff streak to an NBA record 22 years, and and it goes without saying that 29th pick in 2019 has paid off.

But wait! There’s more. While DeRozan only stayed three seasons before agreeing to a sign-and-trade that sent him to the Bulls, the Spurs are still set to benefit from that move too. He brought back Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, a 2025 protected first round pick (which still has a decent change of translating if the Bulls stick to the status quo), and two future second round picks. Young was then sent to Toronto, bringing back the aforementioned 2022 haul, so for all intents and purposes, the Raptors double-contributed with the DeRozan trade.

And finally, there’s the Poeltl trade from last season, which very quickly may end being a loss for Toronto with him reportedly eyeing free agency, uninterested in being a part of another rebuild (although him re-signing is not out of the question, either). While Birch may end up never playing a minute for the Spurs, it’s the draft assets they were after. Even if that protected first round pick next year stays with Toronto and therefore translates to two future seconds, the Spurs have already essentially gotten Cissoko for half a season of Poeltl. If he ends up being as good as advertised and a second round steal, that alone is good enough when the goal of trading Poeltl was to help insure the Spurs’ best shot at Victor Wembanyama. (Oh hey! That worked out, too.)

To compound things, there are rumors out there that the Spurs have “inquired” about signing Poeltl again, and while that can’t be substantiated at this point, it wouldn’t be surprising. He would be the perfect center to pair with Wemby and absorb all the dirty work down low, and right up until he was traded, the word coming out of the Spurs camp was they saw him as their potential center of the future regardless of how the draft went. No one is saying a reunion is eminent — in fact, its probably less likely than anything — but that would merely be the cherry on top of what has otherwise become a fleecing of the Raptors on the Spurs’ part.

When you really look at it, where as the Spurs got Johnson, Branham, Cissoko, and more that is still to-be-determined from these three deals, the Raptors got one year of Leonard and Green, a season and some change of backup minutes from an over-the-hill Young, and what could end up being only a half season from Poeltl. If it weren’t for that 2019 championship, they would have absolutely nothing to show for all these transactions, unlike the Spurs. (And to be clear, that championship is nothing to scoff at. If it came in any way other than from Kawhi, Spurs fans would have been thrilled for them, just as they are now for the Nuggets.)

The bottom line is while the Raptors are currently in no man’s land with hardly any assets from San Antonio left, the Spurs are well on their way back up thanks in no small part to the assets they have acquired from the Raptors. Johnson is steal and a part of their future core (and if not, he’s a heck of bargaining chip), Branham is projecting to be one of the better shooters in the league and could turn into a great role player for the Spurs, Cissoko has plenty of promise, and they still have a few more draft picks left to use.

While the Raptors can at least say they got a championship out of working with the Spurs, San Antonio is the one benefitting in the long term. Leonard left after one season, and since then his health has held him back. Plus he’s reportedly a pain in the Clippers’ side behind the scenes, just as he was to the Spurs, so all in all it’s probably a good thing that they cut their losses when they did (and getting Wemby makes it much easier to say that).

The only real loss for the Spurs in all this was the veteran presence of Green, who was exiting his prime and has been a journeyman since (but at least he got a third championship to show for it with the Lakers). But even then, its already clear that Devin Vassell — their first lottery pick generated all these moves — is a better overall player, so again, it has paid off in the long term. The lesson here is the Raptors probably shouldn’t do any more work the Spurs for a while if they know what’s good for them, especially if it involves any first round draft picks.