- The Toronto Raptors landed Kawhi Leonard in a trade on Wednesday, but he has not yet taken a physical.
- Leonard missed all but nine games in 2017-18 with a quadriceps injury, and teams around the league reportedly did not know if he is healthy.
- According to one report, the Raptors could waive the physical for Leonard, making the deal even riskier.
The Toronto Raptors landed Kawhi Leonard in a blockbuster trade with the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, giving them a one-year window to be in possible championship contention.
Despite the acquisition of a superstar for the Raptors, every piece of analysis on the trade includes one major asterisk: “if he’s healthy.”
Leonard played just nine games last season while battling a quad injury that proved to be a source of friction between him and the Spurs. While the Spurs cleared him to play, Leonard never felt comfortable, and the gap between the two sides only seemed to widen.
It’s unclear how healthy Leonard is now – ESPN’s Zach Lowe has reported multiple times that potential Leonard suitors had no idea how healthy he is, something that created a holdup in trade talks.
That appears to include the Raptors. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on “Outside The Lines” on Wednesday that Leonard hasn’t yet taken a physical with the Raptors. Furthermore, Windhorst suggested that the Raptors could even waive the physical requirement simply to get Leonard on the team.
That could prove dangerous. Sporting News’ Sean Devenney reported on Wednesday that there is a chance Leonard would sit out with the Raptors to avoid playing in Toronto. That would take both sides down an unprecedented, spiraling road, including fines and a potential legal battle, but as ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported, Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto. Perhaps the threat of sitting out would force the Raptors’ hand to send him elsewhere or buy him out.
ESPN reported on Tuesday that Leonard may take part in the U.S. Basketball minicamp in July to show he is healthy. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said on Wednesday that he believes Leonard is healthy and that he expects to coach Leonard on Team USA.
It’s still yet to be proven, and there is always the risk of the issue returning when Leonard is back on the court. Without a physical, it’s tough to gauge whether Leonard is healthy enough to play now, or if he’s over the issue that cost him 73 games last season.
According to Windhorst, Leonard has 48 hours to report to the Raptors, but that deadline could be extended.
The Raptors’ trade for Leonard was a worthwhile swing – the upside is almost too great to pass on. But on the other end, if Leonard isn’t healthy or still doesn’t feel ready to play – whether out of physical comfort or as a leverage move – the deal has the potential to backfire. It’s a major reason why more teams weren’t jumping to trade for Leonard.