On June 13, 2019, Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to its first title in franchise history. Nearly a month later, the 2019 Finals MVP bolted the team he just won a championship with and signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Landing the big fish has never been the norm for Toronto. Being the only team outside of the United States, the Raptors still find difficulty in becoming a prime free agency destination, despite being a big market team and having the backing of an entire country.
Nonetheless, the Raptors have become one of the best-run franchises in the NBA over the last decade. Much of their ascension in the 2010’s has to do with some very smart moves (mostly from Masai Ujiri) in the past 10 years. With that, here are the best trades in Toronto Raptors franchise history.
5. Acquiring Serge Ibaka
With the ball club looking to boost its chances for a title run, the Raptors acquired defensive big man Serge Ibaka in exchange for mainstay gunner Terrence Ross and a first-round pick.
Ibaka played well upon arriving in Toronto, averaging 14.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in his first 23 games as a Raptor. However, the move didn’t pay off at first as the Raptors were eventually swept in the second round of the 2017 playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Ibaka’s second season with the Raptors didn’t look promising as his numbers and production dipped to 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. However, in the 2018-19 season, the Congolese big man saw a resurgence and became a reliable two-way veteran for them, posting solid efficiency and providing steady rim protection. Ibaka eventually proved to be a major factor for the Raptors magical run towards the NBA title last year.
4. Marc Gasol, the final piece to the puzzle
Masai Ujiri was on a mission to bring a title to Toronto. However, despite acquiring one of the best two-way superstars in the game during the summer, he didn’t feel like he had the right recipe that could bring the Raptors over the top.
At the 2019 February trade deadline, Ujiri dealt long-time center Jonas Valanciunas and acquired former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. While Gasol was no longer in his prime, he was a undoubtedly an upgrade over Valanciunas, especially on the defensive end. Likewise, his ability to make plays from the center position gave the Raptors more options on offense.
Gasol certainly came in handy when Toronto faced Joel Embiid in the second round of the playoffs. His veteran smarts and defensive presence played a major role in Toronto’s quest for its first title last year.
Gasol’s numbers have dipped ever since he arrived in Canada. However, his value is definitely felt more on the court than on the stat-sheet.
3. Raps acquire Kyle Lowry
The Raptors had long been looking for a steady point guard. They finally found their man in Kyle Lowry.
At the time of the deal back in 2012, Lowry hadn’t established himself as an All-Star point guard that he is right now. Though he did show flashes, he wasn’t very consistent. Lowry also had a rocky relationship with Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. The Raptors pounced on the disgruntled 6-foot guard and acquired him for protected first round pick.
Lowry became an All-Star in Toronto and helped revive the franchise into relevance in the 2010’s. While the image of faltering during the playoffs became Lowry’s reputation at some point during his Raptors tenure, the two-way star eventually erased that notion when he helped the Raptors to their first NBA championship.
Lowry became the foundational piece of what eventually became Toronto’s championship last season. His leadership as the point guard became the backbone of the Raptors’ magical title run in 2019. Looking at his accomplishments as a Raptor, it’s arguable that Lowry has the best overall resume in franchise history.
2. Draft day blockbuster for Vince Carter
This is the only trade that didn’t have a direct impact on the Raptors’ first championship. Nonetheless, it arguably had the biggest impact in Canadian basketball.
The Raptors drafted Antawn Jamison with the fourth pick in the draft, only to immediately trade him for the draft rights to Jamison’s college best friend Vince Carter, who was picked fifth by the Golden State Warriors.
Carter became an instant star with the Raptors. His high-flying antics were a constant on SportsCenter highlights and everybody tuned in to see what Vinsanity would do next. While his tenure in Toronto didn’t end in the best of terms, Carter is still responsible for putting Toronto on the basketball map.
1. Risking it all for Kawhi Leonard gives Biggest Reward
Masai Ujiri didn’t care. He went all in, despite all the uncertainty. Kawhi Leonard just had a bizarre 2017-18 season, where he sat all but nine games of the season due to a nagging quad injury.
With the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs no longer salvageable, San Antonio looked for suitors for their superstar forward in the summer of 2018. In comes Ujiri and the Raptors, reeling from another embarrassing playoff run, where they just got swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second year running.
By acquiring Leonard, the Raptors traded away a fan favorite in DeMar DeRozan. But not only was a DeRozan a fan favorite, he was also Kyle Lowry’s best buddy on the team. Lowry didn’t like the fact that they traded away his good friend without informing him of the deal beforehand. Moreover, there were rumblings that Leonard may not even suit up for Toronto.
Luckily for the Raptors, they also didn’t need to give up any of their promising young players such as Pascal Siakam, who eventually won Most Improved Player that season, O.G. Anunoby, or Fred VanVleet in the deal. Likewise, they also acquired steady 3-and-D guard Danny Green in the deal as a bonus.
In the end, this became the greatest trade in Raptors history, as Leonard eventually led them to their first NBA title last year. Though Leonard may already be gone to Los Angeles, trading him for that one-year rental was certainly worth it.