The Toronto Raptors finished with 59 wins and the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference last season, but their playoff campaign ended in familiar fashion at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While it was clear that version of the Raptors was a strong team, it was also clear that they needed to make some changes if they were going to go on a deep playoff run — and Masai Ujiri apparently knew that even before they flamed out in the postseason.
As it turned out, their boogeyman left the conference, signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, but the Raptors still shook up their team in a major way, swinging a blockbuster trade to send DeMar DeRozan to the Raptors for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. But as it turns out, that wasn’t the only option they were investigating.
According to a report from Chris Mannix, the Raptors had also reached out to the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2017-18 season with eyes on a similarly significant deal: a DeRozan for Paul George swap. Via Sports Illustrated:
It’s mid-December, and Raptors president Masai Ujiri is leaning back on a folding chair in Toronto’s practice facility, his GM, Bobby Webster, beside him as their new franchise player runs through drills on the floor. Webster had been the one to kick-start negotiations with the Spurs, and Ujiri had been itching to shake up the roster, even before Leonard became available. (Last season, he approached the Thunder about a Paul George-for-DeRozan swap.) Since Ujiri took over basketball operations in 2013, the Raptors have been consistently good, never sinking below 48 victories. But they never felt great. “I have a mandate . . . to win a championship,” says Ujiri. “You can’t continue doing the same thing over and over again. We gave a chance to [that] team. We tried to build it as much as we can.”
The exact parameters of the proposed deal aren’t clear, but it’s safe to say that things worked out much better for both teams that it never happened.
Toronto, of course, ended up getting not only Leonard — one of the five best players in the league — but also Green, a very solid player in his own right. And as for the Thunder, who will be back in action on Tuesday night when they face the Hawks (7:30 p.m. ET — Watch on FuboTV with NBA League Pass extension), they’re getting a borderline MVP season from George, who is not only better than DeRozan, but fits much better alongside Russell Westbrook.
But in any case, these kind of reports are pretty interesting after the fact — if only for the myriad what-ifs they spawn. There’s no doubt the league would be a completely different place if that deal had gone down.
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