San Antonio Spurs: 5 Kawhi Leonard trade scenarios before the NBA Draft
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of the San Antonio Spurs. If a deal happens before the 2018 NBA Draft, what could make sense?
According to Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News, Kawhi Leonard wants a trade from the San Antonio Spurs this offseason. It’s the result of a debate over Leonard’s right quadriceps injury that took him out for all but nine games in the 2017-18 season.
However, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard never expressed any trade demand to the Spurs. Meaning this may all be moot.
Sources: So far, Leonard has expressed nothing directly to Spurs about future. Lakers and Clippers interest Leonard — and both teams would move quickly to assemble packages to acquire Leonard. Spurs won't rush. Leonard and his camp had shown interest in $219M super max deal.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
Though, the timing of these reports come six days before the 2018 NBA Draft, a prime time for teams to make trades and adjust their rosters before free agency starts. So, will this be the window San Antonio uses to move Leonard, pending they actually choose to do so?
If so, there are suitors for the Spurs to discuss with before the draft arrives — maybe even on the day itself. With that said, we took a look at five hypothetical trades that can happen. Of course, these are not the only options, but they all represent ones with draft pick compensation involved. Let’s take a look.
5. Spurs send Kawhi Leonard and Brandon Paul to Sixers for Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, No. 26 pick
The Philadelphia 76ers were linked to Kawhi Leonard earlier this spring, with the potential for them to ask the San Antonio Spurs about him this offseason. Now, with the recent reports, this scenario re-opens as a possibility.
Philadelphia has its own interesting offseason ahead, with Bryan Colangelo’s resignation and a new face, not yet announced, to lead the front office. That puts any pre-draft trade with the Spurs in question, but if the interim president, Brett Brown, wants to make a splash, he has six days to do so.
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A deal starts with Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. He missed most of the season with shoulder problems and a broken jumpshot, something he did not return from until weeks before the postseason, which he also barely played in. So Fultz’s value remains in question.
Dario Saric could offset part of this. The international big man became a member of the Sixers’ main core this season, with his development and other players around him that took a step up. It would be a loss in their frontcourt, but may be necessary to receive Leonard.
Next, there’s the No. 10 pick in the draft. It’s a valuable piece to give up, so if not that, the Spurs can target the 2019 Sacramento Kings pick or the Sixers’ own selection at No. 26. The latter seems more realistic.
Finally, Jerryd Bayless’s inclusion. He has a $9 million-expiring salary for the 2018-19 season and helps the balance of money in this transaction.
The Spurs and Sixers make for an interesting pair. For gaudier deals, though, there are other options ahead.
Next: Boston Celtics
4. Spurs send Kawhi Leonard to Celtics for Kyrie Irving, No. 27 pick
The Boston Celtics once reportedly asked the San Antonio Spurs about Kawhi Leonard, before the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, but did not receive a counteroffer to their proposal. No word on what the Celtics included, but it was not enough to pique San Antonio’s interest.
Well, with Friday’s news out there, what about the Celtics as a suitor? It would be a surprise to not hear them ask of Leonard’s availability before Thursday’s draft, with assets at their disposal. What can it get them, though?
To take on Leonard’s contract, especially with Gordon Hayward’s massive salary and Al Horford’s number, would be much. That’s without mention of Kyrie Irving’s deal. Though, to get Leonard from the Spurs, it might take one of those big contracts to offset the $20 million owed to this player next season.
One scenario is Leonard for Irving and the No. 27 pick. While both players have almost identical contract situations for the 2018-19 season and 2019 free agency, there’s not much incentive for the Silver and Black to take a player that can also walk — not without extra compensation.
If the Celtics willingly bet on Leonard, whether it’s as a one-year rental or to re-sign long term, they may need to relinquish an asset or two. That starts with the No. 27 pick, if the Spurs want to get their own guy, rather than taking one of Boston’s low salary bench players.
The Spurs can always go for a players-only trade, but that would take Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Abdel Nader, Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele to match up financially. It’s a questionable deal to make on both sides.
Next: Phoenix Suns
3. Spurs send Kawhi Leonard to Suns for No. 1 pick, Dragan Bender and Tyson Chandler
The San Antonio Spurs can give the Phoenix Suns the star they may desire, especially if General Manager Ryan McDonough is on the hot seat this summer. They have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and it can become the piece needed to get a deal done.
With the No. 1 pick, the Spurs can target any of Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr., or whoever else they feel is the top pick of the 2018 class. Ayton’s selection would represent a return to big-man basketball, with him next to LaMarcus Aldridge, while Doncic becomes the next international star in San Antonio.
For salary purposes, Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract would become a necessity. If desired, he can receive a buyout or fill in as center depth next season.
Would that be enough for Leonard? Potentially, but if the Suns want to go over the top, the inclusion of Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender can give the Spurs a young big man, even if neither player has lived up to expectations. Both would be projects to work under the regarded team coaching staff.
A Spurs-Suns trade would shake up the draft, but more options remain beyond them. Where else could Leonard go?
Next: Sacramento Kings
2. Spurs send Kawhi Leonard and Brandon Paul to Kings for No. 2 pick, Justin Jackson, Iman Shumpert and Skal Labissiere
According to Yahoo’s Chris Mannix, the Sacramento Kings “desperately want an established star.” This came out almost simultaneously with the reports of Kawhi Leonard’s desire to leave the San Antonio Spurs.
Another team to watch in the Kawhi sweepstakes: Sacramento. Kings have talked to teams about the No. 2 pick, per sources, and desperately want an established star.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) June 15, 2018
For an organization that has dealt with issues attracting and keeping talent since the Chris Webber years, it’s an interesting situation and not so far-fetched to think a call will go to the San Antonio front office for Leonard.
A deal for the San Diego State product of course starts with the No. 2 pick. That can be either Deandre Ayton or Luka Doncic, whoever the Phoenix Suns (or whoever picks No. 1 overall by Thursday) do not select. After that, it’s about salaries, which means a double-figure contract likely goes to the Spurs.
Iman Shumpert recently opted into his $11 million salary for the 2018-19 season. The expiring money can offset part of Leonard’s deal and leave smaller pieces for inclusion, like, Skal Labissiere and Justin Jackson who’s respective salaries can match and make this trade a reality. Jackson and Labissiere are young enough, too, for the Spurs to give them an extended look next season.
It’s unknown if Leonard would go to the Kings, since they are not a big-market team. The Spurs control his fate, though, and if Sacramento’s desperation matches Mannix’s report, then this becomes an interesting scenario.
Next: Los Angeles Lakers
1. Spurs send Kawhi Leonard to Lakers for Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and No. 25 pick
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Los Angeles Lakers are Kawhi Leonard’s preferred destination for a trade. That means a return home and lost leverage for the San Antonio Spurs, who might be forced into discussions with the Lakers if they become the one-and-only spot.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
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If the Spurs and Lakers work towards a pre-draft deal, one of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma or Lonzo Ball’s inclusion makes sense, at least from a value perspective. If it’s Ingram, San Antonio receives a two-year pro, that saw his numbers rise from his rookie campaign and flash high upside on the offensive side of the ball.
Ingram replaces Leonard as the main small wing, a matchup problem for opposing teams due to his height and impressive wingspan. To go along with him, though, is 2017 first-round pick Josh Hart, who went one spot after Derrick White. Hart acts as another shooting guard to add to a potentially depleted group.
The No. 26 pick goes in as insurance, something to potentially put this deal over the top.
It might not appeal as much as other trade options to get a transaction done, but if this is where Leonard wants to go, then the Lakers might have the power to overrule the discussions and give what they want, rather than pander to San Antonio’s requests. That could create an interesting dilemma if trade discussions ever come to fruition.