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Rick Zamperin: Raptors trade means short-term gain for long-term pain

The Toronto Raptors have traded DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard. Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

My first reaction to the biggest trade in Toronto Raptors history was to ask, “what are the Raptors doing?”  After digesting the transaction and reflecting on it a little longer, I continue to ask the same question.

Wednesday’s trade that sent DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio in exchange for Kawhi Leonard is undoubtedly a franchise-altering move.  The trade also sees the Raptors acquire guard Danny Green, while Toronto sends backup centre Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round (top 20 protected) draft pick in 2019 to the Spurs.

READ MORE: Raptors trade 4-time NBA all-star DeMar DeRozan

While some Raps fans are already planning the championship parade route, others are looking to the long-term impact of this deal.  In my opinion, this trade is the epitome of high risk-high reward.

While I appreciate the fact that Raptors president Masai Ujiri is swinging for the fences in an effort to revamp an upper-echelon team that has greatly underperformed in the post-season, he’s going about it the wrong way.

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Raptors fans offer mixed views on the DeRozan trade

Click to play video: 'Fans react to Raptors trade of DeMar DeRozan to Spurs' Fans react to Raptors trade of DeMar DeRozan to Spurs
Fans react to Raptors trade of DeMar DeRozan to Spurs – Jul 18, 2018

DeRozan was the face of the franchise, a four-time all-star and prolific scorer, but even he would admit that come playoff time he sputtered. But the Raptors have not only traded away a player (DeRozan) who clearly loved the city of Toronto and was adored in the locker room, they are bringing in a player (Leonard) who apparently has no desire to play in Toronto.

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Clearly, Ujiri believes that he can convince Leonard to sign long-term with the Raptors. Why else would he make this move?

And this is where I start getting a tad jittery. DeRozan still has three years left on his contract, while Leonard is entering his final contract year of his pact and has said that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Leonard, the MVP of the NBA Finals in 2014, is one of the best two-way players in the league and has proved that he can put a team on his shoulders and carry them across the finish line.

But he played only nine games last season due to a right quadricep injury which led to the downfall of his relationship with the Spurs.

Looking back at DeMar DeRozan’s career with the Toronto Raptors

Click to play video: 'Looking back at DeMar DeRozan’s career with Toronto Raptors' Looking back at DeMar DeRozan’s career with Toronto Raptors
Looking back at DeMar DeRozan’s career with Toronto Raptors – Jul 18, 2018

Best case scenario for the Raptors is that Leonard plays most, if not all 82 games this season, and leads Toronto to a berth in the NBA Finals — or better yet, a championship. Even if they fall short in 2018-19 and Leonard decides to stay in Toronto long-term, it’s a win for the Raps. The worst case scenario is that Leonard isn’t completely healthy and doesn’t lead the team to playoff success in the wide open Eastern Conference, then bolts for Tinseltown.

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Green is also going to be a free agent next year. So, come next offseason, there is a chance the Raptors could be left without Leonard and Green after already dispatching DeRozan, Poeltl and one or two draft picks.

READ MORE: San Antonio Spurs coach ‘thrilled’ with DeMar DeRozan trade

Toronto could have $93 million tied up next year in 33-year-old Kyle Lowry, as well as Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell and C.J. Miles. Looking for some hope beyond that? Fred Vanvleet, Delon Wright, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam would, by default, be the building blocks for a rebuilding Raptors team — good up-and-coming players, but no one on the planet can tell me that they’d lead Toronto anywhere close to a title.

If this thing blows up in his face, the Raptors wouldn’t dare keep Ujiri on board and task him with remodeling a team he just destroyed. Not a chance.

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