The teams with the best assets to trade for Kawhi Leonard never put those assets on the table.
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, who were initially thought to be the strongest suitors for Leonard, became almost irrelevant in the star’s sweepstakes by removing their best players from the trade talks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Instead, the Toronto Raptors emerged as the imminent landing spot for Leonard with DeMar DeRozan on the verge of going to San Antonio.
“So far, the Sixers have held out three players — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz — in talks. Boston hasn’t included five players, including Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. The Celtics and Sixers have offered pick-heavy packages that haven’t moved the Spurs, league sources said.
“… Recently, there has been less traction around the possibility of the Celtics’ and Sixers’ talks with the Spurs. Those teams are well-positioned for the future, and aren’t in the marketplace to be risk-takers. And Leonard — with his murky health picture, his desire to be in Los Angeles — constitutes a risk on some levels.”
Most hypothetical deals between the Spurs and the Sixers started around Fultz, a promising prospect and the 2017 No. 1 overall pick who had his fair share of issues in his rookie season (largely stemming from a shoulder injury and lapses in his shooting form). As for the Celtics, they were expected to need to offer Brown, who is not only an emerging star but also a Leonard-in-training.
Neither offer materialized.
Leonard, who was second in MVP voting in 2016, finished the 2016-17 season averaging 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists with a 48.5 field goal percentage. He is also one of the league’s best defenders. However, he sat out for most of the 2017-18 season with a thigh injury, which has been the source of tension between himself and the Spurs organization. The management and treatment of that injury led to dissent and Leonard’s requests for a trade. However, the injury, along with Leonard’s contract expiring in 2019, surely made him challenging to deal.