- Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
- The Kawhi Leonard trade carried some risks for the Toronto Raptors, in part because he was dealt for DeMar DeRozan, a face of the franchise who is Kyle Lowry’s best friend.
- After the Raptors won the championship on Thursday, Leonard said he texted Lowry shortly after the trade and said although he knew Lowry was mad about the trade he wanted to help do “something special” in Toronto. Leonard said the Raptors made him feel welcome.
- Though Leonard may leave in free agency this offseason, the trade was worthwhile for the Raptors, who won their first title in franchise history.
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The Kawhi Leonard trade proved to be a huge, worthwhile gamble in helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA championship on Thursday night.
Leonard and the Raptors knocked off the Golden State Warriors in six games, winning the franchise’s first championship, with Leonard named the NBA Finals MVP.
Of course, Leonard’s arrival in Toronto wasn’t guaranteed to be smooth. He was leaving San Antonio on ugly terms after the two sides disagreed about the severity of an injury, recovering from a season in which he played in only nine games, and replacing DeMar DeRozan, one of the faces of the Raptors.
There were questions about how Leonard would get along with Kyle Lowry, who was best friends with DeRozan. The questions were not baseless. Lowry acknowledged to being less than pleased with the team’s president, Masai Ujiri, after the deal.
After Game 6, Leonard was asked about how he integrated himself with Lowry and the Raptors when he was traded. He said he sent an honest and, it now seems, prophetic text message to Lowry shortly after the deal.
“I texted Kyle, probably a day later or the day I got traded, and told him: ‘Let’s go out and do something special. I know your best friend left, I know you’re mad, but let’s make this thing work out,'” Leonard said.
ESPN’s Doris Burke asked Lowry about DeRozan after Game 6. Lowry said that DeRozan was his best friend and he knew DeRozan would be happy for him but that he wanted to focus on his current teammates.
Before the trade, Leonard reportedly had a list of teams he wanted to be traded to, which did not include the Raptors. Some wondered whether he would report to Toronto at all.
Leonard on Thursday night said he did have a list of teams he wanted to go to but considered the Raptors to be talented because of their prior playoff runs. He said the team was immediately welcoming of him.
Leonard is now one of the highest-profile free agents this summer. Many have speculated that he’ll leave the Raptors in free agency, perhaps to play for one of the Los Angeles teams, close to where he grew up in Southern California.
But even if Leonard ends up being a one-year rental, it certainly seemed worthwhile for the Raptors.
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