Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge routinely goes against the grain of conventional thinking. While many Celtics fans are currently pointing out that Jaylen Brown’s stats through two seasons are actually better than Kawhi Leonard’s were through his first two years, Ainge knows full well that Kawhi is the player who will give him the better shot at winning the NBA title in 2019.
Ainge has long been the definition of a “go big or go home” basketball executive and will go all-in when he has a legit shot at a championship. He saw the writing on the wall with the 2018 team, helping Kyrie Irving make his decision to shut it down after his injury despite the Celtics’ sterling record at the time. He surely knew that without Gordon Hayward, the Celtics had no shot at winning the ultimate prize in June and dethroning Golden State. But with a healthy Irving, a healthy Hayward, and Kawhi Leonard, the Celtics would be a legit threat to disrupt this Golden State dynasty 12 months from now.
Another big reason Ainge and the Celtics could pull the trigger on a Kawhi trade is in order to hinder the growth of their primary competition in the Eastern Conference moving forward – the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have nearly as many tradeable assets as the Celtics do, and Kawhi would be the perfect player to complement the brick laying Ben Simmons and big man Joel Embiid. It’s not every day that a top three player in the NBA becomes available by trade. Ainge knows that and does not want to just stand on the sideline and watch a player of that magnitude go to his closest competitor in the East.
Celtics fans will argue that the C’s can beat the Sixers even without Kawhi, especially considering they beat them this past spring without their two best players. But Simmons is going to get better. Embiid is going to get better. And with Kawhi – again, a top three or four player in the NBA when he’s fully healthy – it evens the playing field.
Three days ago, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote that that the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers and Clippers would be the main four teams to pursue Leonard. But despite Kawhi’s want to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, the Lakers and Clippers do not have nearly as many trade assets as the Sixers and Celtics.
Another interesting nugget to drop in the past few days is that Dwyane Wade told Yahoo Sports’ Jordan Schultz that he thinks Kawhi will end up in Boston with the Celtics. Wade is very much tied into the inner workings of the NBA, like his best bud LeBron – so his word is just as valued as any beat reporter around the league at this point.
“That was really surprising that (Dwyane Wade) said that,” Schultz told Dan Patrick. “Wade’s thought-process was, like ours is, that something is really wrong in San Antonio. It’s so toxic and severed there between the front office and Kawhi Leonard that it might really be at the point of no return.”
It certainly seems now more than ever that Kawhi will be traded this summer. At the front of the line will be Ainge, and the Sixers’ fill-in-the-blank GM. Many have questioned whether or not Brett Brown would be capable of making a blockbuster trade. But he’s no dummy, and giving up assets for a player of Kawhi’s caliber is not exactly rocket science. Expect the Sixers and Celtics to be neck and neck for the services of Kawhi in the coming weeks.