LeBron James is the big NBA target this coming offseason but Kawhi Leonard will not be far behind. It is almost now certain now that Leonard will be on the NBA trade block in late June as respected basketball reporters Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe both said much this week.
“Nobody in the league has seen anything like this ever happening with the Spurs,” Windhorst said on Outside the Lines. “While everyone is saying the right things it’s clear that there isn’t great communication and there isn’t any agreement between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard’s camp. I’ve already talked to several NBA general managers. At the end of this season, teams will call the Spurs and inquire about the availability of Kawhi Leonard. And the fact that that would even happen is a dramatic shift that none of us could have foreseen coming.”
There are several teams that immediately stand out when it comes to possibly nabbing Leonard through a trade: the Celtics, Lakers and Clippers.
Celtics boss Danny Ainge believes his team is one (big) piece away from legitimately being able to dethrone the Golden State Warriors and for months it has been rumored that the Celtics are playing the wait and see game with New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. But given the season that Davis is having, the Pelicans would be insane to trade Davis away – and even if they entertained it the Celtics would have to give up half their team.
Ainge is a master at pouncing on messy situations (think the Nets heist in 2013 and the Kyrie Irving trade with Cleveland last summer), so he will surely kick the tires on the former NBA Finals MVP. Of course, acquiring Leonard would be pricey. The Celtics would have to trade away both of their young studs in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as well as ancillary pieces just to make the money work. Another route would be to trade away the sizeable contract of Al Horford (who makes considerably more than Leonard does) and either Tatum or Brown and their future first rounders.
The Lakers and Clippers also have trade assets that would entice the Spurs, and they have a leg up on the Celtics in that Leonard is from Los Angeles and reportedly wants to “come home.”
“From what I heard, from a little birdie, what I heard that the reason why [Leonard] doesn’t, not that he doesn’t want to play, is that he doesn’t want to be in San Antonio no more, is because that I heard a big bad was coming,” Former NBA player Nate Robinson said on his podcast. “But if he doesn’t leave San Antonio that bag is not coming … Believe you me, he definitely wants to be somewhere like being at home.”
The Clippers should not be ruled out in this whole thing. In fact, they probably have a better shot at it than the Lakers as the Spurs would rather deal with the Clippers’ front office.
Here is what the NY Times said in February, right after the Blake Griffin trade, about the Clippers when it comes to their plans this summer.
“LA’s new front office voices, most notably the legendary Jerry West, convinced the Clippers’ ring-hungry owner, Steve Ballmer, that they have a real shot to force their way into the free agent mix this summer for Paul George and [gasp] even LeBron James if they could jettison Griffin and then create some more salary cap flexibility.
“Multiple league insiders said Monday night that the Clippers aim to keep trying to create salary cap space for THIS July – enough for multiple maximum contracts if everything falls just right – through potential trades headlined by DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams.”