Kawhi Leonard established himself as arguably the best two-way player in the league. He has the ability to shutdown the other teams best player while also carrying the scoring load. Due to a nagging quad injury, he missed most of last season and only played nine games. That injury has caused a stable relationship to completely fall apart. The Spurs medically cleared Leonard, but he chose to sit out and rehab the injury away from the team. The dissention between the Spurs and Leonard had become uncomfortable. Long time Spurs star Tony Parker publicly commented on Leonard not playing “My quad was 100 times worse.” Uncharacteristically the Spurs dirty laundry was being aired out in public. Suddenly the all mighty Spurs had become a headline for something that had nothing to do with winning. They were more about drama then basketball. The story has continued in the offseason, Leonard has announced that he would like to like to be traded from the Spurs during the offseason.
The Spurs sit in an interesting place. They have a team that has been built around Kawhi Leonard. Successfully they have supplied a group of rising roles players around him with Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson and Davis Bertans. They have also given him a co-star in LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard has two years left on his contract but an opt out clause at the end of the upcoming season. If Leonard decides to opt out at the end of the season the Spurs will lose one of the top stars in the league without anything to show for it. The Spurs must act now. The Indiana Pacers were dealing with a similar situation last summer when star Paul George made it very clear he would be leaving Indiana when he becomes a free agent. Instead of just letting the star walk the Pacers were able to land a potential star in Victor Oladipo and solid role player Domantas Sabonis. The Spurs have to find a way to cover themselves for the coming seasons.
The first and obvious answer for the Spurs is to give Kawhi what he wants. Send him to the Lakers for Kyle Kuzma, potentially Julius Randle (RFA) and their first round draft pick. Lonzo Ball’s name has been put into that conversation but let’s live in the real world. Gregg Popovich will not have any interest in dealing with the Lonzo/Lavar Ball situation. Popovich is well known for not being interested in helping out team in the West. While Kuzma may be a nice piece he would still not be acceptable as the centerpiece of a trade for a top 5 NBA player. Kawhi May want to go to LA but being under contract gives the Spurs the power in this situation.
The move that makes the most sense for the Spurs would be to make a call over to Danny Ainge. The Celtics are loaded with future draft picks as well as young stars. With the return of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving for the 2018-19 season the Celtics will be the favorites in the East. A player the caliber of Kawhi Leonard could be the player that gives them a real chance against the dynasty of Golden State. The Spurs can make a call and ask for Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and one of the many Boston owned draft picks. This trade would give the Spurs two young cost controlled players that are on the verge of superstardom. The Spurs would also have their pick of numerous future draft picks that the Celtics hold. The Celtics would be fools to ignore the call fro, San Antonio, with their surplus of extra talent they can afford to move on from a few of their exterior talents.
The Spurs have to move Kawhi now, but this is not an organization that is going to panic. They will wait and make the move when they need to make it. This is still a team that made the playoffs last season even though Kawhi spent the season on the bench. They still have a star they can build around. The Spurs will make the right decision but don’t expect it to happen right away.