July 18, 2018: A day that will be etched in Toronto Raptors franchise history for eternity.
NBA fans will remember this day by waking up frantically to Twitter notifications from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who broke the news bright and early that the Raptors would send DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick (which later became Keldon Johnson) to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard and ultimate role player Danny Green.
Spurs have agree to trade Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick, league sources tell ESPN. Trade call with league office is starting shortly.
– Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
In a heart-wrenching decision from Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster, the front office parted ways with DeRozan, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer who had spent the past nine seasons in Toronto after being selected with the ninth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.
Toronto was coming off of the most successful season in franchise history with a record of 59-23, earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But after being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Semifinals, it was clear a change was necessary.
Not only did they part ways with DeRozan, they also fired reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey in a reshaping of the franchise to suit its newest contributor in Leonard.
It was a high-risk, high-reward decision, as Leonard was coming off of a season where he played just nine games with the Spurs, dealing with a quad injury, among other reported issues with the organization.
The risk paid off, as Leonard went on to have the best season of his career to that point, averaging 26.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.8 steals, leading the Raptors to the second-best record in the NBA. He was named an All-Star for the third time in his career while also earning All-NBA Second Team and All-Defensive Second Team honours.
He elevated his game to another level in the postseason, averaging 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 steals per game to lead Toronto past the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. He also happened to knock down the biggest shot in franchise history along the way.
A year ago today, Toronto traded for Kawhi, resulting in championship season 🏆
– SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 18, 2019
Matched up against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the Finals, Leonard continued his dominant run to lead the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title. Averaging 28.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game on .456/.370/.889 shooting splits, Leonard took home his second-career Finals MVP along the way.
As you know, Leonard would decline his player option that offseason and elect to sign with his hometown LA Clippers instead of running things back in Toronto.
However, with the Raptors taking home the ever-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in 2019, the front office would surely make the same decision to trade for Leonard again, even knowing that he’d leave after one season.
It will go down as one of the all-time great trades in NBA history.
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