It was only a matter of time before the Kawhi Leonard drama aggressively forced itself back into the headlines.
The NBA rumor mill had a nice reprieve from the drama, instead turning to things like Carmelo Anthony's quest to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder. It even brought some unexpected developments, like Jabari Parker fleeing the Milwaukee Bucks for Chicago Bulls.
But it's back to the Leonard situation. Until now, the San Antonio Spurs had been sitting on their hands while trying to find the best possible deal. But the story was mild at best—Leonard was simply destined to join the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, new rumors suggest something quite a bit different could happen.
Carmelo Anthony Trade?
Before diving into the Leonard developments, keep in mind Anthony is still a potential trade candidate.
It seems unlikely, of course. But the Thunder, for the sake of their checkbook, need to keep seeking out in the dark for a trade partner on the chance somebody bites. Nobody seems ready to shine a light, though, not with every team with even the slightest interest knowing he's likely headed for the open market.
This hasn't stopped the Thunder from trying:
A team trading for Anthony would have to believe he's ready to buy into the system and not be the top scoring option. He was simply an odd fit with the Thunder during his lone season there, averaging only 16.2 points and shooting a career-low 40.4 percent from the floor.
Even the potentially interested teams can't seem too sure about Anthony's fit at this point in his career. On paper, he'd look good as a secondary weapon next to LeBron James in Los Angeles, but only if he's willing to play the role. With the Houston Rockets, he'd have to be third behind both James Harden and Chris Paul.
Anthony changing his expectations for a role at this point in his career isn't impossible, but it doesn't help matters for the Thunder. The front office there will likely have to incur the big cap hit, sending Anthony to the market.
The few teams interested can then head there and start a bidding war where they aren't surrendering draft assets via trade.
Leonard Sweepstakes Notes
Trading Leonard after failing to mend the relationship with him wasn't a simple task for the Spurs front office.
With it naturally seeming like the Lakers were his final destination no matter what happened, the Spurs were having a hard time convincing teams to part with superstar players in a deal.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, the Spurs had talks with several different teams:
"Still, the bidding war among Boston, Philadelphia and the Lakers never materialized. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Toronto and Washington are among teams who've talked with San Antonio, league sources said."
The report goes on to note what should have been obvious. Portland Trail Blazers, for example, weren't going to cough up either Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum. Naturally, the Philadelphia 76ers weren't going to give up someone like Joel Embiid.
The list of examples could go on and on. But Leonard making his way to the Lakers seems inevitable, making him a one-year rental at best for teams who sacrificed it all to bring him aboard in the hopes of competing, then convincing him to stay—never mind the fact he's a guy who just forced his way out of an organization headed up by the universally liked Gregg Popovich.
It seemed like this situation would remain in a holding pattern for a long time...until Wednesday morning.
Raptors Win the Sweepstakes?
Apparently, the Toronto Raptors don't mind taking the risk on Leonard.
Toronto blowing it up after a change in management has been known for some time, though just how far the front office was willing to go was a question worth asking.
Now everyone has an answer.
After ESPN's Brian Windhorst suggested on The Lowe Post podcast the Raptors had emerged as the leaders (h/t The Big Lead's Bobby Burack), Wojnarowski emerged with a report of an agreement in principle:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
Toronto has reached agreement in principle to acquire San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard for package that includes DeMar DeRozan, league sources tell ESPN. Trade is larger on both sides, and players are still being informed of their inclusion in the deal. Trade call with league today.
The Raptors, it seems, were more than willing to deal fan favorite DeMar DeRozan. The longtime Raptors superstar apparently found out the night prior and had a conversation with Kyle Lowry:
Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn
The San Antonio-Toronto deal has been close for days and nearly fallen apart several times, league sources tell ESPN. Ujiri wanted to inform DeRozan himself late last night, in hours before trade call. DeRozan and longtime teammate Kyle Lowry talked hours ago, sources said.
It sounds like the front office handled the situation as well as it could, though whether the risk pays off remains to be seen. After all, hours before the report of a deal broke, ESPN's Chris Haynes had reported Leonard "has no desire to play in Toronto."
This could change at any point, though the Raptors are taking a significant risk that Leonard doesn't simply sit out in protest. He'll need to prove to teams he's healthy, but somebody will still pay the man in free agency. If he plays, the Raptors then have to hope the environment can do enough to convince him to stick around long term—but a player like Paul George deciding to stay with a team is incredibly rare and not the norm.
As for the Spurs, they emerge looking good after finding something at all in exchange for a lost superstar. DeRozan, like most, isn't the defender Leonard is, but he's a 28-year-old star coming off a season in which he averaged 23.0 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 31.0 percent from deep.
While an unexpected end to the drama, the Spurs added a valuable weapon and will be a threat again while the Raptors hope to take advantage of a weak Eastern Conference...should everything go according to plan.