OKC keeping Paul George means nothing for Toronto’s chances at re-signing Kawhi Leonard Sorry, Raptors fans, but one example doesn’t make a trend
In the wake of the Kawhi Leonard trade to Toronto, Raptors fans should not take comfort from the Oklahoma City Thunder re-signing Paul George. That’s not how copycatting works.
Like in all sports leagues, copycatting runs rampant in the NBA. The basketball world should have predicted that after the Thunder persuaded George, who had been vocal about his desire to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, to stay after trading for him with one year left on his contract, other franchises in disfavored markets would take similar gambles.
Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager, described his mentality as “scared money don’t make none,” a line from A Tribe Called Quest’s song “Midnight.” Presti meant that teams must make decisive moves to vault toward the NBA stratosphere. Masai Ujiri, the president of the Raptors, seems to live by that same mantra, trading DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Danny Green and superstar small forward Leonard, who has only one year left on his deal and a vocal desire to not play there at all, preferring Los Angeles instead.
Copycatting in sports makes sense if a team demonstrates, for a long period of time, a high success rate for a particular strategy. That team has revealed a crucial truth about the league that everyone else must grapple with.
The reason that teams are more reticent to play traditional centers for long periods of time, for instance, is simple: We have tons of data showing that smaller players can take advantage of bigger players on offense better than the bigger players are able to take advantage of smaller players. Smaller players frequently send bigger players to the bench, rendering them unplayable. We especially observed that phenomenon during the playoffs, when even Joel Embiid, a great defensive player, was a liability against the Boston Celtics in last season’s playoffs. This is the key: Teams rightly copy what is proven.
But the case of George proves nothing. The sample size is too small. We can’t extrapolate anything meaningful from that single instance to predict the probability that Leonard will re-sign with the Raptors.
The Toronto fans are a pained bunch, at first losing constantly in the playoffs to any Eastern Conference team and then losing constantly to LeBron James’ squad. This trade gives them hope that they have, when healthy, a top-five player in the league. But don’t use the Paul George outcome, Raptors fans, to quiet your fears. You’d be setting yourself up for even more pain in the future.