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.
There’s a shroud of mystery around Michael Porter, which is adding even more unpredictability at the top of next week’s NBA draft.
Porter’s health and his transparency of it – or lack of – has thrown his stock completely out of whack, raising questions as to how and why he’s choosing to handle his pre-draft process the way he is.
There are legitimate concerns over how injured Porter may be. Once considered a top-two prospect in his class, the 19-year-old had a rough season in his lone year at Missouri, where he hurt his back in the first game and needed spinal disc surgery. When he returned, Porter struggled to show why he was a can’t-miss player coming out of high school as he scored 28 points on 9-of-29 shooting combined in the final two games.
Porter’s stock took another hit when he postponed his first pro day, pushing it back from June 1 to June 8, and even when he held his workout – which reportedly went well for the teams in attendance – Porter only allowed the Chicago Bulls medical staff to examine him. The results of his examination were eventually released to all NBA teams.
Porter’s second pro-day was scheduled to be on Friday, but on Wednesday teams in the lottery were informed that the workout was cancelled because of hip spasms, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania. Porter was in such bad condition that he “couldn’t get out of bed”, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
Now, after underdoing an MRI on Thursday, Porter will indeed hold a rescheduled workout on Friday so lottery teams can give him a medical and physical evaluation, according to Charania.
The start-stop nature of Porter’s pre-draft process would indicate his stock his falling, potentially into the back-half of the lottery. If anything, however, his stock appears to be rising, at least based on the report by USA Today’s Sam Amick that there’s a “very real chance” the Sacramento Kings could take him second overall, and on Givony’s report that he’s unlikely to fall out of the top seven.
Porter’s situation is weird, but not unprecedented. Top prospects in previous drafts over the years have similarly limited their exposure in an attempt to influence where they get selected.
For Porter, the motive could be to land in a preferred destination, such as Chicago, who pick seventh. He’s clearly shown a comfort with the Bulls in the lead-up to the draft, while Chicago are a bigger market than every city ahead of them in the order. Givony’s report that Porter won’t fall out of the top seven lends further credence to the theory.
It’s also possible Porter is trying to avoid a team at the top of the order like Sacramento, who have shown to be a dysfunctional organisation.
Regardless, all it takes is for one team to fall in love with Porter’s potential, which has plenty of appeal. The near 7-footer has a fluidity and smoothness to his game that makes him a promising wing talent, perfect for the modern game where a blend of size and skill is coveted.
He may never develop into a star, but he certainly has star-like traits. For teams at the top of the draft order, taking a swing on Porter may be more desirable than selecting a safer prospect with no injury concerns.
With the book closed on the 2017-18 NBA season, we pick out our team of the season (or All-NBA First-Team if you like).
TEAM OF THE SEASON
Naturally, the frontrunner for MVP should be one of the five best players on the season. The killer crossovers, the stepback 3s, the Euro steps… Harden’s game is in many ways the antithesis of beautiful, free-flowing basketball, but there’s no doubting it’s effective and an art form in and of itself. There are few players in the history of the game better at scoring in one-one-one situations and Harden’s stature in today’s hierarchy is near the very top.
While Harden no doubt gets a spot on the team, choosing his backcourt mate makes for a decision that’s a little less obvious. If not for his 31 games missed to injury, Stephen Curry would earn the spot after another fantastic, but truncated, season. Instead, Lillard is deserving of the recognition, finishing as a back-end MVP candidate for leading Portland to the third-best record in the West and averaging 26.9 points, 6.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Often snubbed, Lillard finally gets his due.
It’s difficult to go into hyperbole with LeBron because he continues to amaze, even into his 15th season. At the age of 33, James had one of the best seasons of his career, in which he played all 82 games for the first time and averaged 27.5 points, tied a career-high with 8.6 rebounds and set a new benchmark with 9.1 assists. He’s a walking triple-double and even though his defence has slipped over the years – mostly due to effort – LeBron remains the best player in the world and a dominant singular force.
He may not end up as one of the top vote-getters for MVP, but Durant had an extremely efficient campaign that went under the radar because of the Warriors mostly sleepwalking through the regular season. He averaged 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists while almost being part of the 40-50-90 club for the second time in his career, shooting 51.6 per cent from the field, 41.9 per cent on 3s and 88.9 per cent at the free throw line. Another title and Finals MVP wasn’t a bad way to end it.
The Pelicans two-way star wasn’t just the best big man in the league, he had a legitimate case for MVP – or least for runner-up to Harden – after his torrid stretch in the wake of DeMarcus Cousins‘ season-ending injury. One of the few players who can impact the game at an elite level on both ends of the Court, Davis averaged 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.5 steals. He also extended his range and shot 34.0 per cent from deep. Just an absolute terror.