The Kawhi Leonard trade proved to be a huge, worthwhile gamble in helping the Toronto Raptors win a championship.
Leonard and the Raptors knocked off the Golden State Warriors in six games, winning the franchise’s first championship, with Leonard taking home 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 his injury, recovering from a season in which he only played 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 himself admitted to being less-than-pleased with team 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 revealed that he sent an honest and 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.
Lowry was asked by ESPN’s Doris Burke after Game 6 about DeRozan. Lowry said DeRozan is his best friend and he knew that DeRozan would be happy for him, but he wanted to focus on his current teammates.
Prior to the trade, Leonard reportedly had a list of teams he wanted to be traded to, and it did not include the Raptors. Some wondered after the deal if he would report to Toronto at all.
Leonard said on Thursday that he did have a list of teams he wanted to go to, but said he knew the Raptors were talented because of their prior playoff runs. He said the team was immediately welcoming of him.
Leonard is now one of the high-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.
If Leonard ends up being a one-year rental, it was worthwhile for the Raptors.