San Antonio Spurs: Analyzing a Kawhi Leonard deal with the Clippers
By Dylan Carter
If Kawhi Leonard prefers the Los Angeles Clippers, what can the San Antonio Spurs expect out of a trade?
During an interview with Colin Cowherd on FS1’s The Herd, Yahoo NBA insider Shams Charania asserted that San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard may prefer a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers as opposed to the Lakers. The Clippers, along with the Lakers, 76ers and Celtics, have been linked in trade talks since Leonard’s preference to leave San Antonio has gone public.
Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) on The Herd: “I don't think Kawhi Leonard is jumping for joy now that LeBron is a Laker. If anything, he’ll be more open to joining the #Clippers.”
— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) July 3, 2018
Lacking the glitz and glamour of their hometown rival, the Clippers have endlessly sought after a proven franchise cornerstone. With center DeAndre Jordan (finally) headed to Dallas, the Lob City era has officially ended. Now, with a roster comprised of proven veterans and emerging talents, the Clips will likely look to acquire a new franchise star.
While most attention has gone directly to Leonard’s reported destination of choice in the Lakers, the landscape has changed. After 15 seasons in the East, LeBron James has settled in Los Angeles to lead and mentor Magic Johnson’s young core. With a ragtag group of role players arriving to aid LeBron, many of the team’s original pieces have moved on. When picturing his escape to LA, Leonard may have envisioned that same fate for himself.
As I’ve said before, it IS NOT Lakers or bust for Kawhi. It’s LA or bust right now (tho as PG showed, that can change). If Kawhi hits free agency in 2019, Clippers will have legit shot at getting him.
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) July 2, 2018
Pulling the strings for the Clippers is one of the game’s all-time greats in Jerry West. Before joining Los Angeles in the Summer of 2017, West’s consulting work was crucial in building the dynasty in Golden State. He’s proven himself as a qualified talent-evaluator and decision-maker, but has yet to repair the Clippers. Kawhi has never shown interest in playing second fiddle and could switch focus to the City of Star’s neglected franchise. The real question at hand for Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford is what could the Clippers offer for Leonard?
The City of Star Guards
G Patrick Beverley:
Lockdown defender Patrick Beverley suffered a meniscus injury and microfracture in November, cutting his 2017-2018 campaign short after just 11 games. Before the injury, Beverley bolstered his position as one of the league’s top three-and-d point guards. While snagging a career-high 1.6 steals per contest, he averaged 12 points on 10.8 shots per night. Equally as important, Beverley began his season hot from behind the arc. He connected on 40 percent of his 5.5 three-point attempts per night, tying his career best.
Over the course of his six years in the NBA, Beverley has earned two all-defensive honors and is widely considered one of the most dominant guard defenders in basketball. While he’s never been the tallest or speediest player, his high defensive IQ and leadership set him apart from the pack.
It’d be redundant to target another point guard for San Antonio. Popovich has made it clear that Dejounte Murray is the team’s starting point guard for the future, a choice made midway through the season after Tony Parker’s lackluster return. Meanwhile, Parker is still on the table for San Antonio while 2017 first round pick Derrick White lights up the Summer League. On top of this, Patty Mills re-upped with the team long-term last summer.
The only scenario in which it’d make sense to acquire Beverley is if Mills was also attached in the trade. Dumping his contract and swapping for an expiring veteran in Beverley would create cap flexibility for next summer. Furthermore, Beverley could be a great mentor for Murray, who earned All-Defensive Second Team honors in his sophomore campaign.
Similarly to Rudy Gay this season, San Antonio could bring Beverley along slowly to assure his health and effectiveness next year.
G Avery Bradley:
Another defensive pest hiding in the Clippers’ roster is Avery Bradley, who’s often been coveted as the best guard defender in the league. Coming off of a rocky season between Detroit and Los Angeles, Bradley re-signed with the Clippers on a two-year deal worth $25 million. While it’s not the prettiest contract, Bradley’s output could improve if he can stay healthy.
Bradley may prove himself worthy of the money, but San Antonio’s shooting guard rotation is clogged for the upcoming year. Furthermore, his value has depressed significantly over the past two seasons. While he’s got a lot of fight left in him at 27-years-old, Bradley will need a strong year to prove that he’s the same lockdown two-way player that he was in Boston.
San Antonio filled their need at shooting guard by drafting Lonnie Walker IV, so there’s no need to overextend themselves for another player at his position. Danny Green has opted into the final season of his contract to do pretty much the same thing as Bradley, so there are better options on the table when assessing at trade targets.
G Lou Williams:
Perennial Sixth Man of the Year Candidate Lou Williams, who won the award for the second time in his career this season, signed an extension with the Clippers midway through the year. As the team’s leading scorer and go-to guy, it is unlikely that they’d be willing to include him in any deal. Needless to say, he’d instantly become the best scoring guard on the team if he were dealt to the Spurs.
Young talent is the key for San Antonio in any trade they make and Williams will turn 32 early in the season. As great as he’s been, I don’t see him donning the silver and black any time soon.
Sidebar: A Dejounte Murray and Lou Williams guard combo would be insanely fun to watch. Combining the defense and athleticism of Murray with the shooting and ball handling of Williams would prove to be a deadly duo.
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and G Jerome Robinson:
Rumblings emerged near the 2018 NBA Draft that the Los Angeles Clippers would use the 12th and 13th picks to trade up for a higher selection. Instead, West decided to double down on his instincts and take two dynamic young guards with their picks. The Clippers were seemingly set on selecting SGA since well before the draft and took a flyer on Boston College’s Jerome Robinson who’d impressed in his workouts.
Similarly to Williams, Los Angeles would be hesitant to trade their newfound talent. If San Antonio were to target one of these young guards, it’s more probable that they’d target Gilgeous-Alexander for his high ceiling and low floor. Regardless, they wouldn’t be likely trade candidates. All in all, San Antonio would probably focus on the frontcourt in a trade with the Clippers.
A Loaded Frontcourt
F Tobias Harris:
Few players have faced the inconsistency that Tobias Harris has in his seven seasons in the league. Playing for four teams in seven seasons can take a toll on a player, but Harris seems mostly unfazed. As the epitome of professionalism and dedication, Harris has improved his game in different ways for each season he’s been in the league.
At 25 years old, Harris posted his best numbers yet with 18.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists in about 33 minutes per game. Furthermore, Harris has become an elite three-point shooter in a season where he shot 5.6 per game; which is 2.4 more threes per game than his career average. Whether it be off of the dribble or in a catch-and-shoot scenario, Harris has developed a smooth stroke from behind the arc that’d greatly complement San Antonio’s style of play.
Based on the flashes he’s shown, Harris could be an All-Star if given the right opportunity. The scoring role previously held by Kawhi Leonard would be assumed by Harris, giving him an increased opportunity paired with talented role players and an All-Star in Lamarcus Aldridge. Similarly to Leonard, Harris is locked in for the full 48 minutes of a game.
Should San Antonio orchestrate a trade with Los Angeles, it’s plausible that Harris would be the centerpiece of the deal. His team-first mentality, unselfishness and high character make him the ideal guy for Popovich to lead. With complimentary pieces and a fresh start, the sky’s the limit for Tobias Harris.
F Danilo Gallinari:
We’re going to keep this one short and sweet: Danilo Gallinari should not be a Spur. For whatever reason, Los Angeles signed Gallo on a three-year $65 million deal last summer, averaging about $21 million annually. Not only is this a contract that the Spurs couldn’t afford to take on, but it’s one they should never even consider acquiring.
Don’t get me wrong, Gallo is a useful and impactful player when healthy, but he’s only played in 64-plus games twice in his ten-year career and played in just 21 games this past season. I’ll take a pass.
F/C Montrezl Harrell:
To acquire Harrell from the Clippers, all parties would need to agree to a sign-and-trade, as Harrell is currently a restricted free agent. This is someone the team should consider signing outright, but could also be an interesting trade chip if everything aligns. The athleticism, defense and hustle that Harrell brings to the table are points of interest that San Antonio sorely lacks in their frontcourt.
C Boban Marjonovic:
Fan favorite Boban Marjonovic began his NBA career with the Spurs in 2015 and has earned the adoration of the basketball community. His positive attitude, hilarious antics and enormous stature make for one of basketball’s most entertaining characters. As for his impact on the floor, Boban’s production can be enormous in small doses. He’s never been the kind of guy who can play extensive minutes because of his speed, or lack thereof, and inability to switch outside of the paint, but he tries his heart out.
San Antonio’s fans, for the most part, never wanted him to leave in the first place. If they have to move on from their star player, it’d be a nice consolation to bring a fan favorite home in return.
Next: The Verdict
No one can tell for sure what the final deal would actually look like, but there’s a fair chance that it’d revolve around Harris. With intriguing pieces scattered throughout the roster and a decent chance at retaining Kawhi’s services past the final year of his current contract, the Clippers are a major contender to make a deal. Not only are they desperate for a player of his caliber, but they’d surely be willing to sell the ranch for a shot at the superstar
Popovich and Buford are in no rush to make a transaction despite the growing concern that issues with Leonard’s camp could escalate. There’s really no telling what’s next, but the idea that the Lakers aren’t willing to give up the necessary assets makes the Clippers a true contender to land Kawhi.
Next: Three Trade Candidates for Kawhi Leonard
If the rumors are true and Leonard wants to run the show on his own, this could be his best course of action.