One year after Kyrie Irving shocked the basketball betting world and demanded a trade from the Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, another All-Pro entering his prime is reportedly on the trade block.
Kawhi Leonard, who played in just 9 games last season while dealing with a quad injury, wants out of San Antonio after 7 seasons. It’s significant news, as Leonard is turning 27 this summer and is just a year removed from a 25.5-point per game campaign in which he finished 3rd in MVP voting and was named first team All-NBA.
But he allegedly told Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich in a meeting last week that he wants out. There’s a lot in play here for the Spurs and Leonard, who has one year remaining (plus a player option he will opt out of his 2019-20) on his deal with the Spurs. Let’s jump into the odds posted by 888sport on where Leonard will be playing on Opening Night 2019.
They’re the favorites for two reasons. First, Leonard wants to play in Los Angeles, where he’s originally from. The hometown Lakers have always been the supposed destination once he reached free agency, and now they can grab him a year earlier. There’s also incentive here for San Antonio to move him to the Lakers, as Leonard’s camp could tell other teams he won’t resign with them in a year’s time.
In that scenario the team that trades for Leonard will have to pay handsomely for just one year. The Lakers have assets, too, with Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball all valuable young pieces. Though the Lakers can’t put together as juicy a package as some of the teams below, the combination of those players plus Leonard wanting to sign long-term in Los Angeles makes this the likely destination.
Money talks. If Leonard remains in San Antonio he is eligible for a supermax contract that would pay him $219 over five years. If he’s traded that offer is gone and he can *only* sign a five-year, $188 million deal with a new team. $31 million is a lot of money, no matter who you are.
There’s also the possibility that Leonard and the Spurs fix this problem. Popovich and LaMarcus Aldridge were able to fix their issues and Aldridge turned in an All-Star campaign this past season.
Leonard has enjoyed boatloads of success in San Antonio, winning two titles and the NBA Finals MVP in 2014. San Antonio is a contender, and Leonard has never been a guy who wants the spotlight on him. Don’t put it past fences being mended here.
Danny Ainge has hoarded assets for the better part of the last four seasons, and one would figure he needs to unload them at some point. Yes, he traded Isaiah Thomas, a Lottery pick and Jae Crowder for Kyrie Irving a year ago. But dealing for Leonard would be on a different level.
Boston has a real chance to contend, especially if LeBron heads to the Western Conference, and they have young pieces in Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier plus two strong future draft picks (from Memphis and Sacramento) that would create an enticing offer to the Spurs.
There’s also the fact that Boston plays in the East. The Spurs reportedly have no desire to trade Leonard within the conference. That could obviously change, but if all things are equal the Spurs would choose to ship Leonard East instead of keeping out West.
Speaking of teams with young talent and draft picks that could be used in a trade package, the Sixers have plenty to offer. Their championship window has officially opened as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons blossom into All-Stars, so there’s incentive for them to be aggressive with a potential trade.
Philadelphia, unlike Boston, could put some established veterans in a deal to lure the Spurs, like Robert Covington or Dario Saric. They also have last year’s No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and Zhaire Smith, who they selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft. And like Boston, Philadelphia plays in the East and is a spot the Spurs would want to send Leonard if they had the choice.
We grouped these three together because they’re serious long shots. The Clippers (+500) do have the Los Angeles appeal that Leonard apparently covets, but two of their biggest assets were the Nos. 12 and 13 picks. They used those selections on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, diminishing value solely because San Antonio didn’t get to make the picks. In theory the Clippers could put a package together centered on Tobias Harris, but it’s unlikely.
The same goes for Phoenix (+1400). They reportedly were considering dangling the No. 1 pick in a trade for Leonard. Instead they drafted Arizona center Deandre Ayton and traded for Villanova forward Mikal Bridges. Phoenix could deal Ayton for Leonard, but that feels like a PR nightmare. The Clippers’ and Suns’ best chances of landing Leonard were before Thursday’s draft.
The Heat (+1000) are looking for a true No. 1 and Pat Riley has said no player on the roster is untouchable. But given what other teams have to offer, plus Leonard’s desire to play on the West Coast, this doesn’t seem like a good bet.
It feels like Leonard is going to force San Antonio’s hand. The Spurs may get great offers from other teams, but those teams will be reluctant to deal Leonard if they only have him for one year and he’s already picked out his destination. And it’s not like the Lakers have nothing to offer; Ingram is a budding star, Kuzma was an All-Rookie selection and Ball showed serious promise in limited action. The Lakers are the play here.
If you want an underdog, look at Boston. Ainge proved last year he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on an All-Star when the time is right, and they have an embarrassment of assets. And if LeBron really does go to the West, the path to a championship becomes much more realistic for the Celtics. Plus, the Spurs would get Leonard out of the conference, which is what they want in a perfect situation.