The Kawhi Leonard cloud continues to hang over the entire NBA offseason. The Spurs aren’t willing to budge on their demands with the frustrated forward looking to leave San Antonio, and the front office doesn’t appear to be in any rush to end the relationship.
It’s clear Leonard wants to join the Lakers, but even with Los Angeles holding the leverage of being able to sign Leonard as a free agent next summer, the Spurs still want a major package of assets. What would make Spurs president Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford hit pause before hanging up the phone?
Let’s break down potential trade packages for a few suitors (Lakers, Celtics, 76ers and Raptors) who have popped up in recent reports. (To be clear, these aren’t offers on the table, but rather deals that could begin a real conversation.)
Lakers trade for Kawhi Leonard
Spurs: Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, future first-round pick
Lakers: Kawhi Leonard
Why it would work: The Lakers eliminate the risk of losing Leonard to another team — hello, Paul George — by bringing him to LA immediately. This is how Magic Johnson proves he is serious about building a championship contender. They lose Ingram, who has shown star potential, but the Spurs are unlikely to listen unless his name is included in any deal. This allows the Spurs to remain competitive now while building for the next few years.
Why it wouldn’t work: Los Angeles is in a position of power. Why execute a high-risk trade when Leonard will be there in 2019 and LeBron James is already committed for the next few years? Ingram seems to be a sticking point for both sides, and unless the Lakers or Spurs back down, nothing happens here. Plus, Popovich probably laughs loudly at the thought of dealing with LaVar.
TRADE RUMORS: Lakers won’t sacrifice young core for Leonard
Celtics trade for Kawhi Leonard
Spurs: Kyrie Irving, future first-round picks
Celtics: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs: Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier
Celtics: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Why it would work: In the first scenario, the Celtics decide to go all-in on positionless basketball with Leonard, Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. They place switchable and versatile players all over the floor to match up with the Warriors in the NBA Finals. (This is a win-now move for the Celtics, so they aren’t concerned with the picks.) The Spurs land a No. 1 option who could be prepared to stay long term considering Irving picked San Antonio as one of his preferred landing spots before he was sent to Boston.
As for the second trade, the Spurs stay competitive in the West with Hayward replacing Leonard at small forward and Rozier terrorizing opposing backcourts with Dejounte Murray. Trading away Hayward after a brutal injury would be cold, but Danny Ainge isn’t exactly the sentimental type, as Isaiah Thomas can tell you. Mills is a nice addition to back up Irving as well.
Why it wouldn’t work: With James heading to the Western Conference, the Celtics must be feeling good about their chances to come out of the East. They nearly made the NBA Finals without Irving and Hayward on the floor, so a drastic change is unnecessary, even for a player of Leonard’s caliber. The Spurs could ask for additional players in each trade given the risk of Irving leaving after one year or Hayward not fully recovering from injury, but Boston has shown more willingness to do a pick-heavy deal.
FREE AGENCY: Marcus Smart garnering interest from multiple teams
76ers trade for Kawhi Leonard
Spurs: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jerryd Bayless, future first-round pick
76ers: Kawhi Leonard
Why it would work: If the Spurs can’t convince Leonard to stay with a $219 million max contract, acquiring a former No. 1 pick and starting forward isn’t a bad recovery. Fultz is a huge question mark given all of the mystery surrounding his shot, but if he irons that out, he could become a dynamic offensive creator for years to come. The Sixers form a core of Leonard, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to chase championships right away. (Say it together now… Trust. The. Process.)
Why it wouldn’t work: The Sixers consider the trio of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid “off limits” when it comes to a Leonard trade. Without Fultz involved, the Spurs don’t call back. Maybe Philadelphia throws in Robert Covington along with Saric and other pieces, but it’s just not enough. Leonard would reportedly consider re-signing with the Sixers, though that’s no guarantee, leaving Philly unwilling to take the dive.
Raptors trade for Kawhi Leonard
Spurs: DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam
Raptors: Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gay
(Note: This trade couldn’t happen immediately after Gay signed with the Spurs as a free agent. NBA players can’t be traded within three months of being signed.)
Why it would work: Toronto wasn’t on the radar when the offseason began, but the Raptors have “generated buzz” around the league when it comes to potential destinations for Leonard. With LeBron no longer presenting a playoff roadblock, the Raptors seize the moment by shaking up the East and going for the Finals. The Spurs find an All-Star guard and a couple intriguing young forwards for Popovich to develop. And the most important part… the tribute video for Gay’s incredible contributions as a Raptor!
Why it wouldn’t work: If the Raptors truly believe James was the only thing holding them back, then they will be conservative and trust new coach Nick Nurse to push them over the top. This is a high price for a possible rental, and losing DeRozan could rub the fan base the wrong way. DeRozan took more 3-point attempts and dished out more assists than ever before last season, but the lack of shooting for the Spurs would greatly shrink the floor around LaMarcus Aldridge. San Antonio could see more enticing pieces elsewhere.