The future looks less than ideal for the San Antonio Spurs.
Down 2-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, the dark cloud that is the Kawhi Leonard situation continues to loom over the organization.
Leonard has appeared in just nine games this season as he was initially sidelined with a thigh injury that hampered him during last year’s playoffs.
In the process, fault lines in his relationship with the Spurs have become full-blown chasms. The 26-year-old has been cleared to play by team doctors, but he’s instead opted to go to New York where he would continue rehabilitating.
Given where the team has been over the last couple months, whether it was competing for a not-so-safe spot in the postseason to facing the juggernaut Warriors in the first round, Leonard’s actions have undoubtedly left a foul taste in the organization’s mouth.
This is a completely new look for the Gregg Popovich-lead team, which has been the model of consistent success in the NBA over the past two decades.
Leonard was supposed to completely accept the torch from the likes of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, both at the ends of their careers, to lead the Spurs into another dominant age of 50-win seasons in the West.
Instead, there are talks of Leonard being shipped out of town, via Ailene Voison of the Sacramento Bee:
“No one can speak for Popovich, but some of his closest confidants suspect that if the relationship remains strained and the lack of communication persists, he will pursue a blockbuster trade during the offseason and commit to a parting of the ways. Already, according to multiple reports, several teams are assembling packages that might appeal to the Spurs.”
Those “several teams” are unknown at the moment, but there will likely be an avalanche of calls that come San Antonio’s way should Leonard officially be put on the block.
The Knicks might not have the assets needed to land Leonard, who has spent plenty of time in New York this year, but there’s nothing to lose for the rebuilding franchise. New York has Frank Ntilikina, who showed flashes of developing into a solid two-way guard in the NBA during his rookie season. They also hold a lottery pick this year, which will likely land them around pick eight or nine. Add another first-round pick to that package and the Spurs might listen.
Another big-market franchise, the Lakers, have plenty of young talent to offer the Spurs in Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle. Expected to be big players over the summer for free agents LeBron James and Paul George, the acquisition of Leonard would only help the Lakers’ chances of landing those big names.
Then there are the upstart 76ers, who put the league on notice after winning the final 16 games of the regular season. Once a hapless club rooted to the bottom of the standings, they could become the class of the Eastern Conference if they traded for Leonard.
With Ben Simmons proving that he can run the point, Markelle Fultz could be the centerpiece of a deal for the San Antonio man.