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Wob: Kawhi-for-DeRozan Trade Can Join Exclusive Club of ‘Fair’ NBA Swaps

Jan 03, 2019 7:00 AM EST

USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan

  • Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan haven't skipped a beat this NBA season with their new teams.
  • Early indications are that the blockbuster trade was fair all around, with both the Raptors and Spurs getting exactly what they wanted.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Oct. 29. We’ve resurfaced it today with the Raptors and Spurs playing each other.

When was the last time we had an NBA trade where everyone thought: “This worked out for both parties involved”?

I feel safe declaring the most recent answer was when the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder completed their blockbuster Paul George transaction, sending soon-to-be-All-Star Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indianapolis.

OKC got a superstar swingman to fill Durant’s void/run with Westbrook, while the Pacers received a franchise cornerstone/the NBA’s 2018 Most Improved Player in return.

Before that, however, the water is a little murkier.

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Remember how the world reacted when Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota on draft day 2017 in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen)?

It was perceived as a 50-cents-on-the-dollar deal for the Bulls for a long time. We all know how this played out.

That Andrew Wiggins/Anthony Bennett/Thaddeus Young for Kevin Love trade in 2014 seemed splendid for both of the main parties involved at the time (the 76ers were the third team in the deal).

Oh, can’t forget when the Pacers dealt the 15th pick in the 2011 draft for George Hill.

Hill, an up-and-coming fringe All-Star who outgrew his backup role to Tony Parker in San Antonio, came in and made an immediate impact for a championship-contending Indiana squad.

That harmless 15th pick the Pacers traded for him? Yeah, that was Kawhi Leonard.

We can even go all the way back to 2008 when the Lakers pulled off what was said to be one of the biggest fleecings in NBA history — Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, 2008 first-round pick, 2010 first-round pick, and the No. 48 pick in the 2007 draft.

That meaningless second-rounder? It was Marc Gasol.

The truth of the matter is that we can (and always will) overreact to trades in real time and how they affect the “now,” but ultimately “who won” cannot be judged until years — sometimes even a decade — down the road.

The whole reason for even bringing this up in the first place is because after a measly five games, Leonard and DeMar DeRozan’s performances on their new teams have impressed so much that it may be worth having a preliminary discussion of inducting this transaction into the “fair trade” club.

Credit: John Glaser-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: San Antonio Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan (10).

Before we dive into the evidence, it is essential that we establish some ground rules here. Again, they have played FIVE GAMES — a sample size that renders any serious hypothesis invalid.

Let’s brainstorm: what are the factors that determine if a trade was ultimately “fair?”

1. Did the players on both sides perform to the best of their abilities for the duration of their contract? Obviously, this needs to be answered “yes.”

2. Were future assets (picks and cap space) sacrificed for at least one side to complete this trade? If no, proceed to Question 3. If yes, the trade cannot be graded until those assets are used AND have played enough time in the league to deliver an adequate judgment. This is essentially the Billy King clause.

3. Did the acquisition of the players line up with the long-term direction of both franchises?

4. Did the players involved help their franchises take “the next step?” (Example: from playoff participant to contender, or from out of the playoffs to in.)

Questions three and four are without a doubt the most important when discussing DeRozan and Kawhi, but let’s do our due diligence here.

Did the players on both sides perform well during their tenure?

DeRozan — who was heartbroken by the trade and aired out his hurt publicly…

…has been absolutely BALLING since landing in San Antonio and hooking up with the new date he never thought would be better than the first love.

This 2018-19 campaign, DeRozan is averaging (per game):

  • 27.2 points, just 0.1 shy of his career high
  • 7.8 assists, 2.6 more than his previous career high
  • 6.0 rebounds, another career high
  • 22.7 Player Efficiency Rating, the highest on the team and the second highest of his career

…and he already has one game-winning dagger under his belt:

As for Kawhi, he has been nothing short of sensational. Returning to MVP form the moment he landed North of the border, Leonard leads the Raptors in points per game (26.6), is second in rebounds (8.0) and is shooting 45.5% from 3-point territory — all of which are career highs.

He’s making everyone on the team better, unleashing a version of Kyle Lowry that is simply a walking bucket, and is still doing crazy “WTF Kawhi?” things:

Were future assets involved in the transaction?

We could argue whether Jakob Poeltl will be an important Spur five years down the road, but if we’re being completely honest here, I’d rather eat dirt.

Did the trade benefit the big picture for both teams?

This is a massive yes.

Let’s start in Toronto. For decades, the franchise has been teased with mediocrity, never taken seriously as a actual championship contender.