San Antonio Spurs: Breaking down the Kawhi Leonard situation as it stands
By Matias Weilmann
With Kawhi Leonard’s desire to leave the San Antonio Spurs, what’s ahead for everyone involved?
Well, that’s quite a way to start the NBA Summer of 2018. The San Antonio Spurs had a weird 2017-2018 campaign. For a team that is known for their professionalism and lack of off-court distractions, having their headlines dominated by a cloudy situation surrounding their disgruntled star for an entire season was unchartered territory.
Things in San Antonio are about to get a lot more uncertain.
Shams Charania reported on Friday morning that Kawhi Leonard no longer wants to play for the Silver and Black. A flurry of reports followed, and although we don’t have all the details yet, it’s quite clear that Kawhi’s time in San Antonio is coming to a close sooner rather than later.
The relationship between the Spurs’ front office and Kawhi seemed to be improving as recently as earlier this week, when the two sides were approaching the healing process, according to Jabari Young. Since then, Kawhi “has grown uncomfortable with the Spurs and is ready for move”, according to Shams.
So where do the San Antonio Spurs go from here?
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The main focus for San Antonio’s front office is to get the most out of a potential Kawhi move. If that means rebuilding, then so be it.
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The current roster, without Kawhi, has no chance of competing for the title. LaMarcus Aldridge was spectacular last season, but the team struggled to compete with top tier teams and was only able to sneak in as the seven seed.
San Antonio’s leverage is less than ideal for a few reasons, the first being the disconnect between the two sides. In an ideal situation for the Spurs, Kawhi would have told the organization about his desire to leave before the story broke, allowing the team to explore options with more leverage.
Now that everyone knows how much Leonard wants out, which was rumored at times but was never confirmed, San Antonio will most likely receive less than they would have a week ago.
Kawhi’s player option after next season complicates things. Kawhi reportedly isn’t concerned about earning about the money he’ll earn, but teams have reason to be concerned about Kawhi’s long-term situation.
It’s worth noting that Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti took a chance on Paul George last summer when he traded for him, considering he would become a free agent after the 2018 season. If we learned anything from that, it’s that teams may be willing to take a chance on a one-year rental of Kawhi. If George leaves OKC this summer, it should stand as a warning to teams trying to acquire Leonard.
So what should the Spurs be looking for in a trade package?
If this past season showed anything, it’s that team needs to get younger and more athletic. Even without Leonard, who’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Spurs allowed 99.8 points per game, which was tied for league best with Utah. The issue lied in their offense, however- their 102.7 points per game were 27th in the league and worse than lottery teams like Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando, according to ESPN. Their inability to create offense outside of Aldridge was by far their biggest flaw.
The Spurs need to get a big return from whatever team Leonard goes to. After all, he finished in the top-3 of the MVP vote in 2017. Regardless of if the Spurs go into a full rebuild, the return needs to help make the team younger.
The Lakers are atop Kawhi’s preferred spots, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, although rumors list the 76ers, Clippers, Celtics and even the Knicks as possible destinations. Besides the Knicks, all of those teams have plenty of young options they could ship to San Antonio.
The Spurs should also look into dumping some of their larger contracts as well. Both Danny Green and Rudy Gay have player options for next season, and Pau Gasol and Patty Mills are each making over $10 million next season, with Pau Gasol raking in 16M a year over the next 2 years. Moving at least one of those contracts (preferably Gasol’s) should be a priority in any Leonard trade package.
Kawhi’s imminent departure should just about end all speculation of LeBron coming to San Antonio. It’s quite clear that the Spurs should start looking to the future, with the “Big-3 era” and the Popovich era coming to a close. If the Spurs want to jumpstart their reset, it’s going to have to start with fixing the roster.
Let’s (reluctantly) start the summer of Kawhi Leonard and what could be the beginning of the Spurs rebuild.