Rumors were swirling for much of the season about Kawhi Leonard’s future with the San Antonio Spurs. Recently, he made it clear that he would like to be traded and preferably to the Los Angeles Lakers. Being that Leonard will be a free agent next summer, you’d think the Spurs would feel forced to trade him now opposed to having him leave in a year and get nothing. However, maybe Greg Popovich still feels he can keep his star player for the long-haul. Will Leonard get traded, if so, where?
The five teams that have been the most rumored to try to make a move for the Spurs star are the following: Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, 76ers, and Cavaliers. Let’s take a close look at what each of these teams could offer for Kawhi Leonard.
Lakers: Of all the teams I mentioned, the Lakers would be the most comfortable trading for Kawhi Leonard being that this is his preferred destination. Because of that, they’d have to feel confident about him signing a long-term extension with the Lakers. Undoubtedly, the three most valuable trade pieces on the Lakers are Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma. There have been numerous trade rumors where the Lakers would be giving up two of those players for Kawhi. I know the Spurs are reluctant to trade their star player to their once great rival Lakers, but they would be foolish to turn down two of those players being that they are all young and would be very good pieces moving forward.
Clippers: The Clippers reportedly offered their 12th and 13th picks in the NBA draft and Tobias Harris for Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs declined. If that is true, then the Spurs are foolish. Those two lottery picks are very good assets in trying to rebuild a team, and Tobias Harris is 25 years old coming off of a season where he averaged 18 points per game on very efficient shooting. If the Clippers can land Leonard, their starting lineup could contain Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Leonard and Deandre Jordan. Just imagine how good they’d be defensively! Along with Kawhi and being able to live in Los Angeles, the Clippers would also become an attractive destination for star free agents.
Celtics: The Celtics clearly have the best pieces to trade for Kawhi. The question is, will they do it? One of Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown along with Terry Rozier would be a hard package for the Spurs to decline given their young age and talent. However, the Celtics are in an excellent position right now and I can’t see them trading a potential star in Tatum or Brown for a likely one-year rental.
76ers: Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are untouchable. But the Spurs should look at the other young players on the 76ers roster like Dario Saric, Zhaire Smith and especially Markelle Fultz, who is just one year removed from being the undisputed #1 overall pick. Fultz’s rookie season didn’t go as planned, but he was hurt and we barely saw him on the court. It would be ridiculous to even think about giving up on him already. If the Spurs wanted Fultz as the main piece in a Kawhi Leonard deal, I would be very reluctant especially since Kawhi could be there for only one year.
Cavaliers: For the Cavaliers, it’s all about somehow convincing LeBron James to stay. A top 5-6 player in Kawhi Leonard could do just that. The problem for Cleveland is who do they have other than Colin Sexton that the Spurs would be interested in? Their roster is filled with players with bad contracts. Kevin Love is a good player, but I’m not sure how he would fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge. I don’t see how the Cavaliers can acquire Kawhi Leonard under those circumstances.
If the Spurs decide not to give into Kawhi Leonards commands and keep him, they will be a very good team next season. They won 47 games without him this season and that number would obviously go up with him in the picture for an entire season. However, they would not be title contenders. They clearly would not be on the same level as the Warriors or Rockets, making them the third best team in their own conference at best. Kawhi Leonard has made it clear he wants out, the Spurs need to come to their senses trade him for the best offer on the table.
Kawhi Leonard is phenomenal. The last time we saw him on the court, he averaged 25 PPG on excellent efficiency over an entire season while also being one of the best defenders in the league. It’s easy to see why the Spurs want to keep him. However, they need to realize that the other 29 teams won’t want to give up a lot for a likely one-year rental. Look at the corner the Pacers were backed into by Paul George last summer. At the time, Victor Oladipo was just a decent player and Domantas Sabonis was an unproven young player. That was all the Pacers were able to receive for a fringe top ten player because teams knew that he could very well be there for one season. Sure, that trade ended up working out great for the Pacers, but no one expected Victor Oladipo to turn into a star.
In the end, Leonard’s destination will all come down to not just the culture, but also the pieces the Spurs receive in return to keep them competitive into the future.