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How the Kawhi Leonard deal impacts Toronto and the Eastern Conference

Where do the Raptors and Celtics sit once the dust settles?

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Early Wednesday morning, the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs finalized a deal that will send Kawhi Leonard to the Eastern Conference. The reigning conference champions will send DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a first round pick (protected 1-20) to San Antonio. Reactions are flying, but what’s this blockbuster deal mean for Toronto and the current state of the East?

Here’s the deal laid out in a nice, pretty graphic thanks to ESPN’s First Take.

When healthy, Kawhi Leonard is one of the best players in the NBA. That’s where a lot of the risk sits for Toronto. What if Leonard is still injured? No one has seen him play in a year, while we’ve had zero updates about the forward’s health. Not to mention that Leonard reportedly has “no desire” to play in Toronto. So yeah, there’s a lot of risk involved in this deal, but for the Raptors and their stagnant playoff performances, it’s much needed.

The worst case scenario for Toronto is that Leonard plays this season and then leaves next summer. If that happens, the Raptors would be pushed into a rebuild of sorts, with a solid core of young talent (insert OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet) plus Kyle Lowry. DeMar DeRozan’s contract ($66 million over the next 3 years) is off of their books, allowing them to pursue other acquisitions instead of being capped out. Toronto needed change, and trading DeRozan or Lowry had to be a part of that and getting a top-5 player in the process is ideal. The Raptors were not going to do any major damage with their roster as-is, especially while the Warriors are running the show and the Celtics and Sixers rising in the East. This is the perfect time for change.

The Atlantic Division now adds Kawhi Leonard to an already star-studded group, while the Eastern Conference as a whole just got much more interesting. The Boston Celtics are still the team to beat with their starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford. There’s a reason why they refused to give up major pieces to acquire Kawhi from the Spurs, but they aren’t looking to make a drastic change like Toronto is.

Just because Boston is loaded heading into the 2017-18 season, doesn’t mean Celtics fans should just push Toronto aside. Kawhi Leonard is an incredible perimeter defender, who is the arguably the world’s greatest 3-and-D option. The Raptors also added Danny Green in today’s deal, which creates the potential for a very impressive defensive lineup. Leonard, Lowry, Anunoby, Green, and Serge Ibaka is a terrifying group to face. Toronto was very good on the defensive end with DeRozan, adding Leonard and Green will only make them better.

Still, the Celtics remain the Eastern Conference’s juggernaut on both sides of the ball. The depth remains in tact, while Irving and Hayward returning at full strength will bolster their already-efficient offensive game. This trade doesn’t change the fact that the Celtics are the favorite in the East, but it certainly makes things a little more difficult for the guys in green.

Bottom line: The East improved, the Celtics’ road got tougher, the Raptors are continuing to take some much-needed risks. Only time will tell who the real winners and losers are.