After a tense season that highlighted a rocky relationship between Leonard and the Spurs, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP has expressed a desire to play elsewhere, according to various reports.
Every team in the league should be interested in acquiring a star who, when healthy, is a top-five player in the league. Two factors in particular, however, make trading for Leonard a gamble.
One, he’s effectively under contract for just one more season as a player option for 2019-20 allows him to hit free agency next summer.
And secondly, Leonard reportedly prefers the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only was he born in LA, but he went to college nearby at San Diego State.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
There’s a chance Leonard’s camp is using the leak of his desire to be traded as a negotiation tool. With the frenzy created by the report, the Spurs could feel more pressure to offer Leonard the five-year, $219 million supermax contact.
San Antonio could also approach the situation with patience by holding onto Leonard this summer with the hope the relationship can be mended next season.
The upcoming NBA draft, held on Thursday, throws a wrench into the mix because if the Spurs want to trade Leonard for a pick in this year’s draft, they would want to get the deal done before then.
With all that said, here’s a look at possible trades for the teams appearing to be most in the mix for Leonard.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Even though the Lakers have been reported to be Leonard’s preferred destination, they don’t hold much leverage over the Spurs, who will care more about the assets they get in return than who they trade with.
San Antonio won’t acquiesce Leonard out of the kindness of their hearts. If anything, they may want to steer clear from sending Leonard to a conference rival and instead ship him to the East. But again, all of that takes a backset to the Spurs’ main priority of getting a worthwhile haul back in a deal.
The Lakers don’t have a top pick in this draft to offer – it’s owed to Philadelphia from a previous trade – but they have young talent that could appeal to San Antonio between Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.
It will likely require two of those first three to get Leonard, but San Antonio may not want to touch Ball (and by extension his dad LaVar) with a 10-foot pole, especially after reportedly having issues with Leonard’s uncle.
So to make the money work with a package centred on Ingram and Kuzma, the Lakers would need to include Luol Deng’s mammoth contract – three years left at an average of around $18m annually – while taking back Patty Mills, who will be owed over $12m next season. The Deng contract is not something the Spurs would be at all interested in, so the Lakers would have to include at least the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft, along with a future first-rounder to sweeten the pot.
Is it the best deal the Spurs can get on the open market? Maybe not. But other teams could be scared away by Leonard’s apparent interest in the Lakers.
Celtics receive: Kawhi Leonard
If Kawhi Leonard does become available in trade talks, the Boston Celtics will be interested in probing the Spurs about a deal, league sources tell ESPN. Boston inquired about a trade prior to the February deadline, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
Indiana had little interest in Paul George trade w/ Lakers -- and that'll be case for Spurs too. Boston gives Spurs best building blocks of assets -- one of young forwards (likely Jaylen Brown), its own 18 pick/19 protected Kings pick, etc. Lonzo to Spurs? Don't hold your breath.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
If Leonard is available and the Celtics want him badly enough, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to land him as Danny Ainge has the best assets of any general manager in the league to work with between his talented phenoms and stocked cupboard of draft picks.
Jayson Tatum may be untouchable after playing close to an All-Star level by the end of the playoffs in his rookie year, so Jaylen Brown looks like the more gettable player of the two young wings. Brown isn’t Leonard, but the strides he’s already made two years into his career put him on a trajectory to become one of the better players in the league.
Add in Terry Rozier, who proved he’s a starting calibre point guard after Kyrie Irving went down last season, and the Memphis Grizzlies’ top-eight protected first-rounder in 2019, and Boston has a strong package to throw at the Spurs. Considering Leonard is a flight risk next summer, Ainge would be hard-pressed to give up Brown AND the Sacramento Kings’ top-one protected 2019 pick.
The rest of the trade features salary filler, although Marcus Morris’ inclusion is nothing to sneeze at as he’ll be paid just over $5m next season, making him a value for any team. Boston would also miss Semi Ojeleye, who did well defending Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round of the playoffs, but it would be a necessary evil needed to make the salaries on both sides match.
The Celtics can certainly entice San Antonio, but they’re also in the enviable position of not needing Leonard. After getting within one win of the Finals without Irving and Gordon Hayward, Boston will still be title contenders if they simply run it back with a healthy roster. And with Tatum and Brown, they’ve managed to build a core that should keep them competitive for years to come.
Leonard would raise the Celtics’ ceiling immediately, but the move would also leave them exposed to potentially losing both him and Irving in free agency next year, or put them in luxury tax hell if they want to keep all of their stars long-term.
This may be the rare case where not trading for a star is the better move.
76ers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
The 76ers should and will do everything in their power to land another star this summer, whether it’s through free agency or via trade. Pairing Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with a star wing like Leonard, LeBron James or Paul George would push them to the next level of contention right away.
Their ability to acquire Leonard, however, hinges on Fultz and what his trade value is at the moment. The Spurs may view Fultz as something close to the top prospect he was coming out of college, or they may be terrified of what happened to his shot and why he had to sit out for most of his rookie season. San Antonio may trust their coaching staff, especially famed shooting coach Chip Engelland, to fix Fultz’s issues and develop him going forward. Still, it seems like a lot to bank on for the centerpiece of a trade in which you’re losing a star.
Covington and Saric don’t have the same upside as Fultz, but they have a much higher floor as known commodities that would be reliable role players for the Spurs from the get-go. Their salaries would force Mills’ inclusion.
The 10th overall pick, meanwhile, gives San Antonio another chance at netting a star. It’s not top-five, but it’s still a selection which can yield a franchise cornerstone – Leonard himself was picked 15th back in 2011.
All in all, it’s a decent package to throw at the Spurs, but it feels underwhelming, mostly because of Fultz being somewhat of an unknown. But if Boston don’t want to pull the trigger and there’s hesitation for San Antonio to help build a monster on the West Coast, that could leave the 76ers in the catbird seat.
Know more about Sport360 Application