Reevaluating if big swing trades by OKC Thunder and Raptors were worth the risk

Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors, Paul George, OKC Thunder (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
Paul George of OKC Thunder handles the ball against Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Initially, opponents cited the big swing risks positively:

Until the All-Star break, George was having a career season giving pundits good cause to not just be a throw-in name for the MVP award. Then, injuries to both shoulders occurring during the hardest portion of the Thunder schedule resulted in him dropping to a distant third in those talks. This also led to the Thunder slipping in the standings and all but sealed the fate of the events which led to George’s trade demands to return to his native LA, just with a different squad than the Lakers.

Both the Raptors and Thunder gave up draft picks, assets and went deep into the luxury tax to land these stars. If not for the timing of George’s injuries Thunder fans will always be left to question how differently this postseason may have played out and furthermore whether that trade demand even happens if a healthy PG and Westbrook postseason was more successful.

Related Story. Commemorating Paul George’s top 13 moments with Thunder. light

Two small market teams with two different results for their efforts. In truth, Toronto isn’t a small market but they may as well be considered that since their location alone creates a conflict with the US media and specifically with Television (and their sponsors which pay the bills and are based in America). Surely, the majority of pundits calling for Leonard to return to LA throughout the Kawhi free agency watch speaks to this fact. Never before have I witnessed such widespread pandering by the media for a reigning Finals MVP to exit his team immediately afterward. In fact, Leonard becomes the first ever to do so.

As for the Thunder, although the team had less successful playoff runs during George’s brief tenure, (lost in the opening round in both of George’s Thunder campaigns)  getting him to re-sign last summer gave small markets hope.

Of the major sporting leagues, the NBA is the likeliest to jump on what’s trendy. So there was a reason to believe this summer teams would try to emulate the Raptors and Thunder success and small markets would try to lure a superstar free agent, treat them with kid gloves and bolster their depth. But, that’s not what happened. Instead, the superstar free agents took over with Kawhi Leonard making the biggest power play of all. The NBA landscape changed quickly and dramatically and suddenly those big markets of New York and Los Angeles seemingly regained the draw for the top tier talents.

Therefore, in retrospect those gutsy moves by Ujiri and Presti once marveled at by the League may be viewed in a much different light.