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San Antonio Spurs: The Kawhi Leonard Roundtable

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NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 02: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2018 in New York City. The Spurs defeated the Knicks 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 02: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2018 in New York City. The Spurs defeated the Knicks 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /
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NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2018 in New York City. The Spurs defeated the Knicks 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs in action against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2018 in New York City. The Spurs defeated the Knicks 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

The Air Alamo staff discusses the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard saga in this inaugural roundtable.

The San Antonio Spurs will enter the offseason with more questions than answers, and they all start with Kawhi Leonard, the suddenly controversial star who stayed away from the headlines in his first six seasons in the Alamo City. Now, it’s a question of what’s next?

Leonard missed all but nine games of the 2017-18 season due to a mysterious quadriceps injury that impacted him since 2016. The ailment never went public until the 2017 preseason, when the Spurs announced he would be out indefinitely. That expanded to the fall, with an eventual return in December.

However, after an on-and-off return for one month, San Antonio shut Leonard down and used the “return from injury management” label on him for the rest of the season. There was some speculation on his return before the playoffs, but it never happened and no one saw Leonard play after the middle of January.

That leads to the offseason, which could be the breaking point between Leonard and the Spurs. With just one year left on a five-year contract, it opens the possibility for the two sides to agree on the “supermax,” a $219 million extension over five years. If this happened before the 2017-18 season, there might not be as much conversation, but after missing all but nine games, will the organization pause at this?

With Leonard’s Spurs future in question, the Air Alamo team broke down the saga in this inaugural roundtable discussion. From the chances of saving this relationship to the top trade-suitors, we dove into what develops can happen this offseason.

Next: Can the Spurs and Leonard mend fences?

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 6: Gregg Popovich coaches Kawhi Leonard
SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 6: Gregg Popovich coaches Kawhi Leonard /

Taking everything reported into account, how likely is it that the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard mend fences this offseason?

Maitland Rutledge: A lot of what has been reported may not be 100 percent true. However, the fact that Leonard would not sit with his team during the latter part of the season, much less be around the team is concerning. I do not see the bridge being completely burned like most people think. It may take a new max contract to fully convince Leonard to stay, but based on his last press conference to the media, it seems like he wants to remain a Spur.

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If Kawhi, coach Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford can meet and Kawhi reveals his concerns about his injury and his apparent lack of faith in the team doctors can this fence be mended? It may take Leonard coming out of his quite shell though to make things right.

Ethan Farina: I’d say it’s fairly likely that they find a way to address the issues that have come to light over the course of the season and mend their relationship. San Antonio can offer him something that no other team can, a supermax deal worth upwards of $200 million.

Disagreements over the best course of action regarding Kawhi’s return from injury and wanting to play in a larger market are issues that will need to be addressed eventually but money talks. And $200 million yells. It says “worry about that stuff later, come get your money Kawhi.”

Do the Spurs and Kawhi completely mend their relationship this offseason? Maybe, there are some issues that may carry into the season and continue to be discussed as long as Kawhi is in San Antonio but I think that the two sides will come together to keep Kawhi in a Spurs uniform.

Dylan Carter: If I had to give it a percentage, I’d say there’s a 65 percent chance that the relationship between the team and Kawhi gets mended this offseason. From what’s been reported, it seems like the majority of the friction between Kawhi and the team comes from his personal agents and management.

The relationship between Kawhi and Pop is the most important key in this whole scenario. If Pop could mend his relationship with LaMarcus, who he wasn’t as close to, then he can certainly mend his close relationship with Kawhi. As long as his rehab goes as planned and he’s willing to work with the team to fix things, I believe that there’s a really strong chance that this whole situation can be fixed. At the end of the day, both parties are looking to be as successful as possible and their best chances of achieving that is by working collaboratively to be great.

Kendall Garriss: The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported on May 17 that the Spurs would not trade Leonard for anything less than a “grand-slam” offer. Thus, the ball is in the Spurs’ court.

The longer Kawhi is still a member of the team, the greater the chances are of a potential reconciliation and, hopefully, an agreement to a supermax contract Leonard would be eligible for. Although the severity of the rift between team and player seems more pronounced, one only has to look back at last off-season with the LaMarcus Aldridge debacle to see Gregg Popovich’s ability to navigate a volatile situation.

Right now, the onus is on other teams, especially contenders like the Philadelphia 76ers or those who want to enter that conversation like the Los Angeles Lakers, to dig into their war chests and gauge what the cost would be to acquire the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Because the Spurs have no obligation to move Leonard before the start of the regular season they can just sit back, try and fix the situation and let the offers pile up.

Ryan Kostrzewa: This is really hard, because we don’t really have a great idea of what the root of the issue is. The antagonizing force seems to be the disagreement over how Leonard’s quad injury was handled.

That said, there have been a myriad of reports about shoe deals, unhappy family members, strenuous practices, and the team’s free agency decisions that make it hard to tell how much Leonard really wants to leave. If it’s just truly a matter of injury management, I think the front office will yield and Kawhi will be back, but if there’s weight to the talk that Kawhi is unhappy with his brand status and is seeking a bigger market, I don’t think there’s anything the Spurs can do to change his mind.

Rob Wolkenbrod: I’m putting the odds at 50/50, only because the longer this situation played out during the season, the worse it seemed to get.

It’s still difficult to know Leonard’s standing with the Spurs, even with the reports on his relationship with the organization. He’s barely spoken since the calendar turned to 2018, and the front office has kept a similar level of silence. Maybe (probably) it’s just a way to keep info away from the media, but there’s no way to know how the player feels, because it would be an all-time head-scratcher to see the Silver and Black avoid rekindling this partnership.

Next: Is a rebuild or retooling on the way?

NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 02, 2018 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 02: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs warms up before the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on January 02, 2018 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images) /

If the San Antonio Spurs trade Leonard, along with everyone that can hit free agency this summer, does this become a rebuild or a retooling?

Rutledge: If all the players set to hit the market do leave, I would not leap to it being a rebuilding year as much as a retooling year by finding some young guys in the draft, Summer League or in free agency. A few players hitting free agency, such as Joffrey Lauvergne and Bryn Forbes, can be replaced with equal if not more talented guys.

Tony Parker is now 36 years-old and his best days appear to be far behind him, on top of him hinting he would be willing to go somewhere else to finish his career. Losing Danny Green and his defensive presence could hurt along with Rudy Gay, who came on late in the year as a second scorer. Kyle Anderson and Davis Bertans showed improvement based on receiving more minutes and could be even better next year.

You would still have LaMarcus Aldridge, who is coming off an all-star year and signed a contract extension last summer, as the new cornerstone of your franchise. Pau Gasol would still be a solid compliment to Aldridge in the frontcourt along with Patty Mills holding down your backcourt when needed. You would also still have a young nucleus of Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Jaron Blossomgame, and Brandon Paul. All would be given more opportunities to play and develop.

Farina: If Leonard does get moved this offseason the San Antonio Spurs should focus on getting young players with potential rather than trying to trade for an already established star. Danny Green and Rudy Gay both have player options for next season but early rumblings indicate that they will be back with the Spurs. Kyle Anderson, Bryn Forbes, Davis Bertans, and Tony Parker could return or the Spurs could let them all walk.

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  • Looking at the teams that have been rumored to be interested in trading for Leonard and these teams assets it would seem like a rebuild is the more likely scenario. We will see what happens in the draft but outside of Dejounte Murray, the Spurs don’t have that high potential young players. Trading Kawhi offers an opportunity to acquire top-tier young talent that the Spurs desperately need. The future of the Spurs looks as uncertain as it ever has. How the organization handles this offseason will go a long way to determining what that future looks like.

    Carter: I don’t think a rebuild is in the cards for San Antonio, as there’s too much talent on the current roster and within the organization to start fresh. It’s also been said that the return on a Leonard trade would have to be sizable for them to make a move in the first place, so you can probably assume that they’d be receiving a decent return in any deal that’s made. I still believe that regardless of the Kawhi situation, San Antonio will take a long look at LeBron James in Free Agency. Although to be fair, who wouldn’t?

    Garriss: It truly depends on what the trade for Leonard looks like. However, I would be extremely cautious throwing the term ‘rebuild’ around a team that has been the model of consistency for the last two decades. Leonard only played in nine games throughout the year and the Spurs were still able to finish the season with a 47-35 record and a playoff berth.

    The biggest potential mover this offseason could be Danny Green if he decides to decline his player option and opt for a new long-term deal with another team that has money to spend. Green is the prototypical 3-and-D wing player and was a second-team all-defensive player during in the 2016-17 season. If he walks, that could be a big blow.

    Given Leonard is no longer in the equation, then LaMarcus Aldridge can be the face of the offense again. If Aldridge is able to replicate the 23.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game he put up last season then the Spurs would just need to focus on surrounding him with shooters and a decent center who can help out on the glass.

    Ideally, if the Spurs are able to acquire a few young and talented players in exchange for Kawhi then they can spend free agency looking for veteran players who can help bolster the lineup. A guy I would love to see sporting the silver and black is Tyreke Evans. Injuries still remain a big concern but, as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies last year, Evans put up his best numbers since he won Rookie of Year in 2009-10. His size and skill set lends itself to a position-less style of basketball that’s become the trend in the NBA and his ability to manufacture his own offense would fit in nicely with a team that struggled in that department a season ago.

    Kostrzewa: If Leonard does tell the Spurs he won’t sign an extension, it goes one of two ways. I don’t think the front office will fold immediately, and I’d imagine the immediate response to losing Leonard would be to go after a replacement in LeBron James, Paul George, or potentially Karl-Anthony Towns. If they strike out on the big names, I think that’s when they’d pull the plug and put the team through its first true rebuild in over twenty years.

    Wolkenbrod: The San Antonio Spurs can’t win a championship if everyone but Leonard returns to the team in 2018-19. They will make the playoffs, sure, much like the 2017-18 campaign, but there’s not much upside beyond that. It’s a team with needs across the board, and they might have to tear some of the fabric down to rise back up.

    Is a rebuild necessary? If the Spurs hit on a draft pick or two and acquire a veteran to take the scoring load off Aldridge, no. Plus, the package they would get for Leonard should inevitably include quality pieces to fill spots in the rotation. If anything, a trade can help San Antonio get a young big man, a shooting guard or picks that turn into filled needs. Even better if the Phoenix Suns send the No. 1 pick over.

    However, when do the Spurs look in the mirror and realize this team, especially without Leonard, won’t compete for a title? Aldridge has three years left on his contract, and at age 33 for the 2018-19 season, he’s not getting any younger as the team’s centerpiece. Once that becomes clear, the Spurs might enter territory not seen since the 1980’s.

    Next: Who's the top suitor?

    If the relationship can’t be fixed and the San Antonio Spurs put Leonard on the trade block, which team stands out as the top suitor?

    Rutledge: Right now the team that stands out is the Philadelphia 76ers. Reports have indicated that they are interested if Kawhi is in fact on the block. While it may take unloading Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, or a lot of draft picks, this team seems like the best fit based on the young pieces they have already assembled. Kawhi is also only 26 years-old so I feel he would fit with the young nucleus this franchise is looking to build in the future to compete with high-powered teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Celtics and the Cavaliers, if LeBron James stays.

    Farina: Boston, Philadelphia, and both the Los Angeles teams have been named as potential trade partners for San Antonio. Trading with the Clippers would be more of a retooling than a rebuilding. The Lakers have made it clear that none of their players are off limits and there’s a lot there to like. The Sixers have an appealing combination of players and picks. Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric are promising young talents, and also holds the tenth pick in this year’s draft.

    Out of all of the suitors, it’s the Celtics who can offer the greatest return. With their unique combination of top-tier young talent, an excess of talent at the wing position, and an absolute BOATLOAD of first-round picks the Celtics would have no problem putting together a package that would land them Kawhi. How does Jayson Tatum or Jalen Brown, Terry Rozier, and a first round pick in 2019 sound? Not too bad to me. I’m opposed to the idea of trading with Danny Ainge in general but there is no denying that Boston can put together the most attractive package of assets.

    Carter: Minnesota has certainly emerged as a great contender with the recent reports of friction between Karl Anthony Towns and their organization. A swap of Towns and Leonard would be fair for both sides, as one of the players is an established superstar while the other is a superstar in the making. Some other teams, and targets, that come to mind are Boston, whose wing tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum provide great trade appeal, and Phoenix with a piece like Josh Jackson or TJ Warren along with the No. 1 pick. Imagine a lineup of Murray, Green, Warren/Jackson, Aldridge and Deandre Ayton.

    Garriss: The Boston Celtics always comes to mind first just because they have so many assets, in the form of skilled young players and future draft picks. But with the rapid development of players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Danny Ainge may be cautious in trade discussions if he believes they should be part of the core foundation the organization is building in Boston.

    The Los Angeles Lakers would be the next most likely location. Kawhi has been vocal about the organization’s inability to attract mega-stars to play alongside him. With all the cap space the Lakers have Leonard could get just that in LA. The Lakers have also stated that nobody on the team is safe this off-season so they could be an amiable dance partner in trade talks.

    Further, with young players such as Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram available, the Spurs could get a youthful injection of offensive talent for a team that traditionally has one of the oldest rosters in the league. However, Pop could and should be skeptical about trading his best player to another Western Conference foe.

    I’ll say advantage: Boston (for now).

    Kostrzewa: The rumors seem to point to the Celtics, Lakers, and Sixers as the teams most interested, and Boston has enough young talent and assets to make the Spurs think about it. I don’t think the Lakers deal makes a lot of sense because I don’t think Ingram’s ceiling is as high as everyone else seems to think, and I’m honestly not sure about the Sixers. Of the team’s rumored to be interested right now, Boston has the pieces to make it work, but if Kawhi does opt not to sign the supermax with San Antonio, other teams will waste no time offering everything they can for the best two-way player in the league.

    Wolkenbrod: The Lakers and Celtics stand out for their assets, but what about the Suns? They have Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and TJ Warren to use in deals. Oh, and that No. 1 overall pick sounds nice, too.

    If the Spurs can pry the top pick, Bender, Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract and maybe a future pick away from Phoenix, it allows them to go for Deandre Ayton or get their next international star Luka Doncic.

    The other wild card? It could be Suns general manager Ryan McDonough’s last chance to save his job. Bender, Chriss and Jackson all provide intrigue, but none have broken out into the players this team needs next to Devin Booker. Leonard would be an instant upgrade and the ideal player that can do it all to pair next to one of the NBA’s best shooters.

    Next: Will the Spurs trade Kawhi?

    SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
    SAN ANTONIO, TX – JANUARY 13: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images) /

    The ultimate question: will the San Antonio Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard this offseason?

    Rutledge: I do not see it. I have believed since he was ruled out mid-season that his quad injury is worse than people really know. If I am a top five player in the league and I’m only 26, I want to be as healthy as possible so I can play at a high level for as long as I can.

    I feel Kawhi is also taking into account what happened to Isaiah Thomas recently with his injury and wants to exercise caution before trying to rush back on the court. He is a once-in-a-lifetime player based on his defensive skills and offensive ability. To let him just walk out the door because of an injury to me would be foolish. While this situation could have been handled much better by both sides, it is what is and has been blown out of proportion.

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    Farina: I don’t think so. It wasn’t so long ago that another San Antonio Spurs star was surrounded by trade rumors and hoopla. LaMarcus Aldridge went so far as to reach out to his old teammate Damian Lillard to talk about a possible reunion in Portland. After addressing the issues in their relationship through a heart to heart talk with Coach Popovich and re-signing for a three-year extension Aldridge had one of the best years of his career.

    Yes, no two players are exactly alike but the resolution that Aldridge and the Spurs were able to come to is a good sign that the same outcome is possible with Kawhi. Honest and open communication goes a long way towards salvaging any relationship. Oh, and $200+ million dollars. Honest and open communication and a Brinks Truck full of money should help keep Kawhi in a Spurs uniform.

    Carter: No, I don’t believe that Leonard will be traded. When it comes down to it, both sides have Kawhi’s best interest in mind despite what some parties may believe. If Leonard is offered the Supermax Deal, I can’t see him or his camp turning it down. It’s just way too much money to leave on the table, especially with Jordan Brand lowballing him on his endorsement money. On the Spurs’ end, I’m sure that Pop and R.C. are waiting for the opportunity to run it back against Golden State with a healthy roster.

    Garriss: Despite the rumors, perceived strife and uncharacteristic drama surrounding a franchise that is usually never in such a position, I still can’t bring myself to imagine Kawhi Leonard playing anywhere besides San Antonio next year. If I trust any organization to resolve a precarious situation, it’s the Spurs.

    However, I do believe there is cause for concern. For some reason, the relationship between the Spurs and Kawhi was broken. It’s going to take time, communication and compromise on both sides if they truly want to repair the bond they once had but, in the end, I believe cooler heads will prevail and they can get back to the business of contending for championships.

    Kostrzewa: I’m actually optimistic that he’ll stay. There’s been so much confusion and noise over what Kawhi is actually unhappy about that I really think everything except the injury disagreement could be white noise, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he did want to head to a bigger market. Time will tell.

    Wolkenbrod: I would like to think Leonard stays because if anyone can save a relationship with a star player, it’s Popovich. Too often with superstars, since LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, they want to align with other high-caliber players or go to big-market destinations to expand their brand.

    Some top players have stuck around, sure. Aldridge did along with Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Blake Griffin with the Los Angeles Clippers (until the organization unceremoniously traded him), Dirk Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks and John Wall with the Washington Wizards, among others.

    On the other hand, there’s two LeBron departures, Paul George’s desire to hit free agency after the 2017-18 season (made clear before the Thunder trade), Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire in 2010, Carmelo Anthony in 2011, Kevin Love in 2014, LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, Al Horford and Kevin Durant in 2016, and Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving in 2017.

    There’s a more notable history of stars wanting out of their situation, whether it’s after a few years or as many as seven or eight seasons. It leads me to think that, at age 26, Leonard will want (or get influenced) to expand his brand outside of the small confines of San Antonio, TX, and can view Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as examples (all three were stars but never became the media sensations of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal over the years).

    Next: 2018 NBA Mock Draft: After the lottery

    The San Antonio Spurs control where Leonard goes this offseason, though, and may be forced to give in if they know the Klaw will leave in 2019 free agency. So they do not have to agree to a big-market term, but that also limits their leverage with nnon-Celtics Knicks or Lakers teams.

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