San Antonio Spurs: What can the Clippers offer for Kawhi Leonard?
By Rob Wolkenbrod
The Los Angeles Clippers might be in the trade talks for San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. If so, what do they have to offer?
On Saturday, Sam Amick of USA Today Sports reported the Los Angeles Clippers will make an offer for San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, if the organization puts him on the trade block this offseason. That’s amidst the drama of issues over Leonard’s injury rehab on his mysterious right quadriceps injury, and a fractured relationship with the Spurs.
Trading Leonard seemed impossible for the Silver and Black before the 2017-18 season started. He just finished an MVP-like season, led the team to another 60-win campaign and emerged as one of the NBA’s best players. One year later, this organization could undergo its most drastic offseason move change ever.
Whoever acquires Leonard this offseason, it would likely take a haul to get him. The two-time All-Star makes an elite impact at both ends of the floor, and while the long-term implications of this quad injury complicate his future,
So what pieces do the Clippers have to offer? Let’s evaluate them. Note this is not designed as a trade package but a look at potential candidates for this acquisition.
Honorable mention: Avery Bradley
The Spurs had interest in Avery Bradley at the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, with Danny Green as a rumored piece in return. However, the Clippers only received six games from Bradley, before he suffered a season-ending injury and allowed for other players to take his playing time.
A Bradley-Spurs connection would be intriguing, but the former Boston Celtic will hit free agency this summer. Unless he agrees to be part of a sign-and-trade, San Antonio must look elsewhere on Los Angeles’ roster for trade pieces.
Next: Sindarius Thornwell
Sindarius Thornwell found playing time early with the Los Angeles Clippers, fell out when Avery Bradley joined the team in the Blake Griffin trade, and found a role when Bradley had a season-ending injury. Thornwell received a higher volume of minutes played, but did not have the green light to score until the season’s final two games; he played over 30 minutes in each matchup and had 32 points — the highest total for a two-game span in his rookie season.
There’s enough offensive and defensive upside to make Thornwell a worthwhile inclusion in a Kawhi Leonard trade. He can take a depth spot that Danny Green or Manu Ginobili might leave open this offseason and offer the San Antonio Spurs a different look. This can happen over two seasons, as the South Carolina product is owed about $3 million until the end of the 2019-20 season.
This cheap contract can give the Spurs an inexpensive player on what will be an expensive team, with LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and Patty Mills on double-digit salaries. The same goes for Danny Green if he takes the 2018-19 player option. Rudy Gay has his own option for $8.8 million.
Thornwell would not headline this deal, but be one of many pieces included in a trade. How much value does he carry?
Next: 2018 picks
2018 first-round picks
Any package for Kawhi Leonard starts with the future, at least if a deal happens with the Clippers. They own their own pick (No. 13 before the lottery) and the Detroit Pistons selection (No. 12 before the lottery) from the Blake Griffin trade. With how far back these picks are in the lottery process, it’s possible they go back-to-back, pending any shenanigans during the official announcement of the 2018 NBA Draft order.
Two lottery picks, San Antonio Spurs’ first in the top 14 since 1997, would net them young pieces to build around and join LaMarcus Aldridge, Dejounte Murray and whoever else remains on the 2018-19 roster. It’s already an older roster, but if Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Rudy Gay all depart this offseason, this squad could have a fresher look to it.
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NBADraft.net has Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Miles Bridges at No. 12 and 13, respectively, in its mock draft. That does not mean the Spurs are guaranteed these players, but it’s an idea of who could be available in this range.
Potential needs for the Spurs will include shooting guard depth, a wing player and center if this trade happens. Bridges could work into the mix at one of these picks. Mikal Bridges, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Lonnie Walker may make sense, as well.
Whether the Spurs can get both 2018 first-round picks from the Clippers is another point. One would think RC Buford and Gregg Popovich try this. If not, look for one pick in 2018 and the other in 2019.
Next: Tobias Harris
Tobias Harris has found it impossible to avoid trades in his young NBA career. He’s seven years in and had teams move him three times in-season, with the latest during 2017-18, as part of the Blake Griffin blockbuster. Other trades happened in the 2012-13 and 2015-16 seasons. It’s led to Harris not playing more than two full seasons with any of the four teams he has played for.
None of this is to say the Islip, NY native can’t play; he developed into a consistent performer for the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers, averaging at least 15 points per game for all three teams. That’s with a 46 percent shooting mark and 41.1 percent from 3-point range.
Well, if this trade happens with the San Antonio Spurs, it’s not difficult to think Harris leaves town, again.
Money may be matched to pull off this deal, and with Harris’ $14.8 million salary for 2018-19 (also an expiring contract), he can consume most of Kawhi Leonard’s $20 million figure. Then, the Spurs can see what they have for one season, before potentially using that cap space on someone else in 2019 (Kemba Walker and Klay Thompson are among the headliners).
If not this, Harris’ expiring contract can be moved in another trade by the Spurs. The guy will continue to move as long as his salary contributes to larger scale deals and while h hovers around 25 years old.
Next: Danilo Gallinari
Acquiring Danilo Gallinari might not be the sexiest look to this Kawhi Leonard trade for the San Antonio Spurs. He battled yet another injury-riddled season, something that carried over from the Denver Nuggets to the Los Angeles Clippers. That was just 21 games played, averaging 15.3 points on 39.8 percent shooting and 32.4 percent from 3-point range; both were career-low numbers.
However, Gallinari’s inclusion solves one issue: Money. He’s owed $21.5 million in 2018-19, which eclipses Leonard’s contract by fewer than $1 million. That allows for cheap, young pieces and draft picks to surround the Italian forward in a potential deal, especially since he’s allowed another $22 million in 2019-20.
While acquiring Gallinari has its upside for making the Clippers unload almost every young asset they have, it’s still an expensive contract to consume the salary cap for 1-2 years. That’s as long as the 29 year old continues to suffer injuries (his history indicates this will not stop happening) and perform below the level of his Nuggets days. It would not help the Spurs towards their retooling phase and limit them for the next two years, unless things trend in the opposite direction.
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It’s difficult to see Gallinari as a trade headliner, given how he performed in the 2017-18 season. If the Spurs can get worthwhile pieces in return, then his involvement makes more sense.