The biggest trade of the summer in the NBA, almost wasn't. At least not if a report is true that the Toronto Raptors had interest in Paul George before they landed Kawhi Leonard.
Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com the report that prior to the trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Leonard, the Raptors actually had interest in superstar Paul George. George was approaching July 1, 2018, as an NBA free agent and before eventually re-upping with the Thunder, there was speculation he might move onto the Lakers or explore his options with another team. That opened the door to a possible trade prior to the start of free agency.
President of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been looking shake up his roster and approached the Oklahoma City Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around George and DeMar DeRozan. Clearly, that trade didn't take place, but in not happening, Mannix reports that the Raptors have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George gave them the confidence to them to roll the dice on Leonard.
Part of what the Raptors may not have that the Thunder do is a strong bond between George and Russell Westbrook which was a key factor in George's decision to stay in OKC. The hope in Toronto is that star Kyle Lowry can build a similar bond with Leonard. That may be easier said than done considering Ujiri wasn't in Lowry's good books when the DeRozan trade took place — DeRozan was Lowry's best friend.
What This Means
Ujiri did roll the dice when he acquired Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs. There was no guarantee he would stick around in Toronto for more than a single season and in trading DeRozan, the other star of the Raptors, Lowry, might not have been too keen on the changes.
But, the Raptors have the best record in the Eastern Conference, Lowry is coming back healthy and Kawhi seems ready to take on an even bigger role with the team. Perhaps Ujiri's gamble will pay off and the Raptors will be able to keep their new superstar in the fold.