With Kawhi Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs future in doubt, here’s why he should stick around.
The San Antonio Spurs could make a decision that historically alters their franchise’s path. That’s potentially trading Kawhi Leonard, the expected face of the organization after Tim Duncan’s retirement in 2016 and as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili near the end of their respective careers.
Leonard and the Spurs have been part of reports since January that detailed a broken-down relationship. It’s due to a right quadriceps injury the team’s star suffered in 2016, which only increased in severity as the 2017-18 approached.
If Leonard is mulling a trade request this offseason, should think otherwise and revive his Spurs loyalty? Let’s look at why this could happen:
4. Playing for a legendary coach
This is simple. Playing for head coach Gregg Popovich is an opportunity few NBA players have done, given the franchise’s consistent core of players since the late 1990’s and 2000’s. Popovich brings a championship resume to the table and consistently leads his teams to success, so why would Kawhi Leonard not want to be there?
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It’s no secret Popovich may have taken public swipes at Leonard, something never seen in the former’s long-tenured era. That likely needs to play a part in “Heart-to-Heart Conversation Part II” this summer, along with the “group” issues. So the player could not want any part of the coach.
Leonard developed into a superstar under Popovich, working from a mid-round selection that averaged 7.9 points in his rookie year to a bonafide star. This partnership was a success for six years and seemed unbreakable, with how well the team performed as the San Diego State product improved statistically.
Most situations that Leonard could join do not have the elite-level coach to play under, with the exception of Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers and Boston Celtics head man Brad Stevens, among others.
Playing for this future Hall of Famer is an opportunity few players receive. Will Leonard be the first one to want out of it before his contract expires?
Next: Other situations are mostly questionable
3. Other situations are mostly questionable
There are questions with whichever team Kawhi Leonard goes to, pending the San Antonio Spurs trade him this offseason. Whether it’s an in-conference team or out East, no situation seems “perfect” for him.
The Clippers might lose DeAndre Jordan to unrestricted free agency this offseason. Aside from Tobias Harris — who may have to move in a Leonard trade — and two 2018 first-round picks that seem likely to join the acquisition conversation, it’s not a strong roster.
The Lakers bring more questions. Depending on who the Spurs ask for, it would reconstruct the look of a young, talented roster, potentially losing Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram in a trade. Julius Randle can leave in restricted free agency, as well, and the book remains out on Lonzo Ball. So this situation may not be pristine and have questionable upside.
The New York Knicks have a depleted roster and their own star, Kristaps Porzingis, with a questionable future due to injury. They do not have many assets to offer for Leonard, anyway, due to the roster’s construction under Phil Jackson, the former President of Basketball Operations, and that lack of players with upside leaves the Knicks as an underwhelming landing spot. That’s especially if Porzingis goes the other way in a trade.
Boston and Philadelphia each offer intriguing situations that can’t be ignored, but if Leonard is already in a prime scenario to make the playoffs and challenge for a title (when healthy), should he not stay?
Next: 2017-18 season's success
2. This is already a 47-win team without him
Without Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs did not reach 2015-16 or 2016-17 status, but they still achieved success and made the playoffs in a crowded Western Conference picture.
Led by LaMarcus Aldridge, this team won 47 games. Four of these came in Leonard’s nine games, but since his season impact was minuscule, it’s difficult to factor in any appearance.
This Spurs team will likely have a different construction next season. Danny Green, Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne can all opt out of their respective contracts, three players can become restricted free agents and Tony Parker’s deal expires July 1. So, by the end of the summer, this may not be a 47-win team.
At the same time, most of San Antonio’s potential free agents have just as great of a chance at staying as leaving, given the restricted status, the possible opt-ins and Parker’s loyalty to the organization.
The only guaranteed change, if the Spurs give their selection, is a rookie, or two, from the 2018 NBA Draft. They will pick at No. 18 in the first round unless a trade takes place between now and draft day.
If the Silver and Black keep a stable roster, would it tempt Leonard to choose to stick around?
1. $219 million
The saying is “money talks.” Aside from the other reasons for Kawhi Leonard to stay with the San Antonio Spurs, this could be the deciding factor because yes, $219 million is quite a figure and difficult to turn down.
San Antonio is the only team able to offer Leonard $219 million over five years, giving him long-term financial stability until age 32. That leaves one more opportunity at a sizeable-but-not-as-big deal, unless there’s an opt-out clause for the fifth season in this “supermax” extension.
Anywhere else Leonard goes, he can’t sign this massive extension. The same goes for signing somewhere in the 2019 offseason. He can make up part of it with an opt-out after Year 2 of 3 of a shorter-term deal with another organization, but there’s the risk of this right quadriceps injury flaring up and impacting future earnings.
Leonard may not love his situation in the Alamo City, but there are 219 million reasons for him to stay. It’s a luxurious amount to set him up for life, and the cash total is arguably the make-or-break part of his decision to stay, but that’s only speculation on my part.
Which factors should convince Leonard to stay with the Spurs? If there are none, why would he leave the organization?