Four teams have become part of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes with the San Antonio Spurs, but how do they stack up against each other?
The San Antonio Spurs have Kawhi Leonard on the trade market, but nine days into free agency, no deal seems close. It’s after a seemingly failed meeting with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who attempted to recreate the 2017 heart-to-heart with LaMarcus Aldridge, another player that wanted out of San Antonio.
When Leonard goes remains to be seen, but the bigger question is who takes him? A handful of teams have been mentioned as potential suitors.
How do all the candidates for Leonard rank against each other, though, in terms of assets and possible likelihood that a deal gets done? Let’s take a look:
4. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers recently became Kawhi Leonard’s latest “preferred” destination. It’s the other Los Angeles team, the one that’s not as high profile or headline-worthy as their STAPLES Center partner.
Before the 2018 NBA Draft, the Clippers had two first-round picks to offer for Leonard, the No. 12 and 13 selections; these became Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, respectively. However, once L.A. chose those players, it took away value, as the Spurs obviously were no longer able to take who they would want.
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Gilgeous-Alexander and Robinson are the Clippers’ best young assets, but would the Spurs even want them? There’s already an overload of young guards in the backcourt, including Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV. Gilgeous-Alexander and/or Robinson only complicates that and potentially forces a move of another guard.
Outside of them, Tobias Harris might have value as a starting small forward for the Spurs. That’s where the Clippers’ assets end, though, unless a 2019 first-round pick is included and hardly guaranteed to go in the lottery.
A deal with Harris, one of Gilgeous-Alexander or Robinson and one or two future picks could become Los Angeles’ offer. It might make sense from one side’s perspective, but the Spurs only receive one year of Harris, young players they may not have wanted at the draft, and selections likely destined for the bottom 16 of the first round.
3. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics, unlike the Clippers, have a war chest of assets. It starts with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, floats throughout the roster, and ends with the 2019 first-round pick from the Sacramento Kings, a potential top 10 or top five selection. However, the Celtics have shown no inclination to move Brown, Tatum or their other “top five players,” including Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.
Without even Brown to headline a deal, it moves Boston back in the running for Kawhi Leonard. They still own young pieces, featuring Terry Rozier and Semi Ojeleye, but neither are headline-worthy. That leaves a pick-laden deal as the only option, but would San Antonio have any desire to do this?
The Celtics no longer have Brooklyn Nets draft picks to move, with the 2018 draft over, so that limits their capital to send the Spurs. Sacramento’s pick should have appeal, but is it enough when the other selections will potentially fall near the bottom of the first round?
If Celtics general manager Danny Ainge caves and puts Brown in a trade, this gives the Spurs a proper headliner for Leonard. It’s hardly a given, however, and makes this team an unlikely candidate for the opposite end of a trade.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
“Trust the Process” turned into Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the figureheads of the next generation of Philadelphia 76ers Basketball. Though, they hardly became the only young players to join the organization in this process.
Through former executives, Sam Hinkie and Bryan Colangelo, draft picks turned into youthful talent over the past five years. Most of them still remain, aside from Jahlil Okafor, along with future selections, so the Sixers have pieces at their disposal to move for Kawhi Leonard, who they showed interest in.
A deal with the San Antonio Spurs could start with Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. He missed most of the season with shoulder issues and a broken jump shot, so it may have sapped some of his value. However, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Fultz is off limits in Leonard talks.
If Fultz can’t lead a deal, the Sixers still have Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Are either enough? What about both? The same goes for the unprotected 2021 pick from the Miami Heat, which could have value at the back end of a trade.
If Leonard is willing to re-sign with the Sixers, this makes a deal less complicated. With injury concerns and no guarantee of a stay past 2018-19, will the necessary pieces join a deal to make this work from San Antonio’s side?
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers were the original “preferred” destination of Kawhi Leonard’s. The LeBron James signing followed, something that seemingly helped their chances at a trade with the San Antonio Spurs, until the aforementioned rumor of Leonard’s desire for the Clippers. Even with this, the Lakers are the top suitor.
Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma as potential headliners represent young, rising stars that can take a main scoring role for the Spurs and slow down any talk of a “rebuild.” Either would work as the No. 2 scorer next to LaMarcus Aldridge.
After that, there’s Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, who San Antonio does not want. But they still represent secondary options after Ingram and Kuzma. Though, again, the Spurs have a plethora of young guards. Would someone, like, Patty Mills or Danny Green have to go into a deal, as well?
Aside from the assets, if the Lakers want that second superstar to play with LeBron, this is their best chance at it this offseason, before Leonard hits the open market in 2019 and can have other teams chase him with contract offers. It may take a while, but will the desperation rise and lead to Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka pulling off a deal just weeks before the 2018-19 season starts?