A star of a different iteration of the current, better team. A proposed team leader. Offensive upside but inconsistent. Failure to take the next step towards a championship caliber team, and eventually forcing the team to move on from them. There are a lot of similarities between Jake Gardiner and DeMar DeRozan.
Recently, amidst questions of his role in the current Raptors success, DeRozen stated that he was the “sacrificial lamb” for their success this season. And while the statement was extremely self-righteous, it is fair, if not disrespectful to the greatness of Kawhi Leonard.
Masai Ujiri made the extremely difficult decision to go all-in on the 2018/19 season, moving on from the star player, face-of-the-franchise talent that DeRozan was. It was a gamble, but it wasn’t underthought or done half-heartedly.
Dubas isn’t looking to trade Gardiner as Ujiri did with DeRozan, though. No, instead Dubas has to decide whether bringing back the polarizing defenseman is the right move. Or, perhaps letting him go will provide a fresh start for both parties.
The Raptors used the inked DeRozan (plus a late first round pick) to leverage the return of Kawhi Leonard to Toronto. It’s now clear that the Raps have never had a player of Leonard’s level before. And while originally a heavily criticized move, the Raps underpaid for him. The Leafs aren’t going to b bringing in a generational player of Leonard’s caliber, but Gardiner moving on could free up the cap space to resign Mitch Marner, a uniquely talented generational player.
The situations aren’t mirrors of each other, but the sentiments really are similar. Jake Gardiner is a very skillful offensive defenseman, and if he the exact same player was available on the free agent market the Leafs would be going after him 100%. However, Gardiner’s contribution to recent playoff failure has not gone unnoticed. Are his past transgressions too great to overcome in the mentality of Leafs nation?
Yes, Gardiner is a great skater with poise on the puck and a sense for the net. He can chip in with plentiful assists and can skate himself out of a tough situation most times. Is his time up in Toronto, though? Yes, and just like DeMar DeRozan, his team needs to move on from him to take the next step forward.