If the San Antonio Spurs will not trade Kawhi Leonard in their own conference, then the opposite side of the NBA opens a handful of possibilities.
A report from the OC Register said Gregg Popovich would not trade San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard to a “Western Conference rival” when a potential Los Angeles Lakers trade was referenced. However, who does Popovich classify as an in-conference rival? That can be anyone, especially if he feels a non-playoff team is one step away from making the postseason.
If this rules out all West teams, there is still 15 teams in the Eastern Conference to work with. None of them get Leonard anywhere close to being an “L.A. guy,” but some interesting options are there for the Spurs.
By trading Leonard to the East, it keeps him out of San Antonio’s path in the postseason. That means no anticipated matchup to get to the NBA Finals. Rather, anything would happen in a regular-season game or the small chance of guiding their paths toward a battle for the championship.
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Moving Leonard to the East bolsters this conference’s star power, most of which went to the West in the 2017 offseason. Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder highlighted this.
If this happens, it would set the Spurs’ title pursuit back, costing them the revitalized LaMarcus Aldridge and precious seasons of Popovich as the head coach. So, it is not impossible for these sides to reconcile and work out a long-term future. Easier said than done, of course.
If the Spurs send Leonard to the East, what can they receive in return? Is it enough when some West teams can offer their own asset-laden packages? Let’s look at five teams that can do this, with young players and picks at their disposal.
Let’s start with one of the NBA’s hottest teams, the Philadelphia 76ers, who boast one of the strongest young-talent pools. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid sit at the top, and one can figure they will not don another uniform for a long time, if ever. However, the assets do not stop there.
Through “The Process,” the Sixers’ front office accumulated draft picks, which turned into Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Furkan Korkmaz and Markelle Fultz. A Lakers selection, that was seemingly acquired ages ago, remains in their arsenal, as well.
Does it get to the point where Philadelphia decides to unload some of these assets for a proven star? If the situation arises, what if that becomes Kawhi Leonard?
Anything potentially starts with Markelle Fultz, who missed most of his rookie campaign with shoulder problems after going No. 1 in 2017. He’s the prized asset of this group, with Saric as the No. 2 and this Lakers lottery pick as the other intriguing piece. After that, Luwawau-Cabarrot and Korkmaz can be candidates for back-end pieces of the deal that close this out.
The pieces are there for the 76ers to get a deal done, and while all of those players, and the pick, will not be in a hypothetical trade, what this team holds should be enough to ponder.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks never shied away from mortgaging their future for pieces they think help them win now. They did this for Stephen Marbury, Eddie Curry, Jamal Crawford and Carmelo Anthony over the past decade. Do not forget about the first-round pick that was dealt for Andrea Bargnani, too. Not the best of times for this franchise.
If Kawhi Leonard enters trade talks, however, this could be a different situation. He’s an established star, albeit an injured one, that can turn this franchise’s fortunes around, especially if Kristaps Porzingis can heal his knee. Is there a match, though?
Well, it would be a difficult task to pull off. It would likely take Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway’s bloated contract and a bevy of draft picks, including the 2018 selection. Since teams can’t trade first-round picks in back-to-back years, expect some pick swaps and draft choices to go to the San Antonio Spurs every other year.
This makes New York an unlikely match, but it would not be a surprise to see them mentioned at least once. They may try to work something out with what they have, but it is not what the 76ers can offer, as well as other Eastern Conference teams.
The Milwaukee Bucks appeared to be the team of the future, or the breakout squad of the 2017-18 season. With Giannis Antentoumpo, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, Eric Bledsoe and Thon Maker, this team had the chance to shine and join the Eastern Conference’s elite, until they did not and fired head coach Jason Kidd.
The Bucks and Boston Celtics sit even in their playoff series, and while the former found success, it was still against a Kyrie Irving-less team, and they found middling regular-season success. So how can the next step be taken?
Milwaukee has the capital to trade for Kawhi Leonard. Whether it is Middleton or Brogdon as the trade’s headliner, along with Maker and a first-round pick, there is a potential match between them and the San Antonio Spurs. It is a matter of if the front office willingly mortgages the pieces around Antetokounmpo for one star.
If the Greek Freak and Leonard join forces, “length,” “wingspan” and any other adjectives to characterize this duo will be used. They make game-changing impacts at both ends of the floor, even if Antentokounmpo’s defense has not reached its full potential, and offer frightening situations for their opposition.
The Spurs get pieces that may not put them over the top, but enough to offset the loss of Leonard and build toward the future. These pieces can work around LaMarcus Aldridge and what is already in place, as Middleton or Brogdon can be the scoring guard with size that San Antonio needed all season long. Their own superstar would have solved this, but if he will not be there for the 2018-19 campaign, then someone from the Bucks could be the next-best thing.
The Boston Celtics might have a more compelling package to offer than any of the 76ers, Bucks and Knicks, because their young talent already seems established.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown offer tantalizing potential, and both may become superstars for the next decade. Each have shined in the Kyrie Irving-less postseason, including a standout performance from Brown in Game 4 of their first-round series with Milwaukee.
If the Celtics do not want to wait for development on either player, could they use one to get Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs?
Either Brown or Tatum could be a better piece than anything another Eastern Conference team can offer. Both are wing scorers that can take Leonard’s spot and fill the previously noted role of a scorer with size next to LaMarcus Aldridge.
Outside of them, Boston still has an abundance of draft picks to offer, even as the Brooklyn Nets heist reaches its conclusion. They have the rights to 2019 selections from the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and either the 76ers or the Sacramento Kings. Add in Marcus Morris’s contract and this could be a trade to ponder.
The Celtics would have Leonard, Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford to put against the Eastern Conference’s elite, depending on how many of them remain after the 2018 offseason. This group’s upside would be high and make them one of the favorites for the 2019 title.
The final Eastern Conference team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, might not have the young players to get Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs, but they still own the Brooklyn Nets pick that will fall in the lottery.
The Cavs do not have the star-potential players to throw at the San Antonio Spurs. Larry Nance is not that player. Neither are Cedi Osman or Ante Zizic. All three can be complementary pieces, along with someone’s contract that is used to offset’s Leonard’s $20 million.
This makes the Brooklyn pick the prized piece of the package, with the opportunity to select Mohamed Bamba from Texas, Wendell Carter from Duke, Mikal Bridges from Villanova, or someone projected in the top five that falls. It can even land the Spurs in the top five, pending how May’s lottery results. So, if someone at the top intrigues Popovich and RC Buford enough, could this be enough to lead a package from Cleveland?
Of course, that pairs Leonard with LeBron James in the Land, as long as the latter re-signs in the offseason. This duo offers eye-popping upside, as players that wreak havoc at both ends of the court and can lead their teams on any night. Oh, and LeBron still performs like he’s one of the NBA’s greatest players at age 33.
There would be plenty to like from Cleveland’s end. It depends on how much stock the San Antonio Spurs take in Brooklyn’s pick, though, that makes or breaks this transaction. This may even set the Silver and Black into a rebuilding phase, but would it be worth it?