The deeper the Boston Celtics go in the playoffs, the less likely it seems they will match up with the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
“Will the San Antonio Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard this offseason?” might be the NBA’s biggest offseason topic. Aside from the Los Angeles Clippers, the book is not out on who will line up for Leonard’s services.
Teams with young players or draft picks — if the Spurs want to trend in a youthful direction — could make sense for this organization. That’s potentially why the Boston Celtics, who stocked up on assets after mauling the Brooklyn Nets for two aging veterans, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are part of the trade speculation.
Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News proposed a deal to send Leonard to Boston for a package headlined by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, their last two top-five picks in the NBA Draft. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith called for a Leonard-Kyrie Irving trade, which goes against the youthful package idea and swaps two injured stars entering the final seasons of their respective contracts.
Amidst this, the Celtics are on the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s without Irving, who has not played since March, and Gordon Hayward, who was expected to be part of this title run before suffering an injury, minutes into his tenure with this historic franchise.
When Boston gets Irving and Hayward back for the 2018-19 season, they will potentially pair with Brown, Tatum, Terry Rozier (the breakout star of the playoffs) and the underappreciated Al Horford. That’s a stellar group of talent and aside from Rozier or Irving, they can stay together into the 2020’s.
Why break up the band before seeing if it can reach its potential? Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, who has not been shy with tearing down his roster, could obviously be tempted at the prospect of Leonard, considered one of the best two-way players when healthy. Pairing him with an elite point guard (Irving), another matchup problem on the wing (Hayward), a steady center (Horford) and maybe one of Brown and Tatum, offers intriguing potential, especially if LeBron James leave the East this summer.
But, if Ainge wants to keep the team the same and see how Irving and Hayward fit into the puzzle, especially if the Celtics put up a fight in the Eastern Conference Finals (if they make it), who could blame him? They may be two all-stars away from glory, ones the organization does not need to go outside to find and sacrifice pieces to get Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
There will be other suitors for Leonard, but the longer Boston stays in the playoffs and finds success with the players in place, it shrinks their chances at being a suitor by the day — if they were ever a candidate.