Analyzing the Fits for Kawhi Leonard’s Top Landing Spots
There are not a lot of teams who would be in a rush to trade a two-time defensive player of the year, finals MVP, and a future perennial all-star. For Greg Popovich and the Spurs, they have been ushered into the uncomfortable position of having to find a new home for disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard.
Once a silent giant, Leonard seems to be steering towards the tantalizing allure of celebrity on the west coast. Whether or not the front office decides to grant Kawhi’s ticket out of San Antonio has yet to be determined but the signs are pointing at three potential spots for him to land. Here is a look at how Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia would fit Leonard into their organizations.
Front Office Perspective
If being an NBA general manager was like being a player at the World Series of Poker, Danny Ainge would be the guy at the table with a slanted fedora leaning backward on his chair sporting an assassin’s grin.
Every time a superstar is made available, all of the NBA trade rumor junkies (myself included) point to Ainge’s golden chest of young talent, and first-round draft picks. Ainge is no stranger to mortgaging the future in order to compete in the short-term. In fact, it worked out for him in 2007 when the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for the C’s youngsters and future picks.
But the state of the league has changed dramatically since then.
What Ainge has at his disposal with four potential first-round picks in next year’s draft might not ever happen again. Teams value first round picks far more than they ever have in the league’s history. If Ainge is going to deal those picks, the trade needs to be for someone who is going to be on the Celtics for more than one year. There is no indication that Kawhi would stay in Boston as he has a preference to go to the opposite coast.
This is why Ainge should just be a spectator while the Kawhi sweepstakes continue and wait for another superstar to be made available. That superstar is Anthony Davis.
I know, I know, for years there have been rumors that Davis would get shipped to Boston, but there might be a clearer pathway this time around.
Even if New Orleans re-signs DeMarcus Cousins this offseason, there is no guarantee that he will be the same player he was before he ruptured his Achilles. That is a career-altering injury for big men especially as the pace of the game continues to increase. Jrue Holiday could also digress after only having a stellar second half last season. The Brow can’t do everything on his own, and the Pelicans could easily be a mediocre team once the trade deadline arrives next January.
If Davis is made available, the Celtics would be the front-runners to land him and could offer Jaylen Brown along with three or, if Ainge is desperate, all of his 2019 first-round picks. Davis would be a long-term replacement for Horford, and the Celtics could be the best team in the league for the next five years.
It seems like a pipe dream, and New Orleans is in no rush to trade a top-five player in the league. However, it could be worth being patient especially when no one knows what Kawhi is thinking or where he is at physically.
On the court fit
Despite all of the off the court heat he has taken, Kawhi is an elite level talent that any team would want on its side. However, the Celtics don’t need another superstar to contend for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
While either Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown would be shipped off in a trade for Leonard, the Celtics already have three capable wings in those players plus Jayson Tatum. What Boston lacks is a true thumper in the paint. They have already begun addressing that issue by selecting big man Robert Williams with the 27th pick of this year’s draft. The Celtics would be naïve to depend on a rookie to be an anchor on the inside for the entire season. Instead of going after Leonard, the Celtics should save their money and bench depth by finding low salary vets who can defend the paint.
The biggest concern the Celtics would have bringing in Leonard would be getting him 20 shots a game that a superstar like him would demand. There isn’t a scenario where Kyrie and Hayward are traded together for Kawhi so one of them is going to take a sizeable role on offense (as they should). Kyrie averaged 18 shots a game last year while Hayward averaged 15 shots in his last two seasons in Utah. Then there is Tatum who proved in last year’s playoffs that he can shoulder the offense on any NBA team. He seems ready to shake off his rookie tentativeness and be an even bigger contributor for Brad Stevens next year. Kyrie or Hayward and Kawhi will probably take 40-45 shots a game next season which could stunt Tatum’s growth. There is simply no room or shots open on the roster for someone of Kawhi’s caliber on offense right now.
Any other year I would be all in on the Celtics going after Leonard, but frankly, it is unnecessary. The Celtics were one win away from going to the Finals last year without their two best players. If you are reading this Danny Ainge (he’s not) please PLEASE fold your cards and let the other players at the poker table outbid themselves.
Los Angeles Lakers
Front Office Perspective
Unlike the Celtics, the Lakers should be all in on Leonard. Whatever the asking price is for the San Antonio superstar, Magic Johnson and company should pay it.
While the situation is still playing itself out, the Lakers could have shot themselves in the foot already by not going after Paul George more aggressively last offseason. Instead of trading for George, LA let the Thunder nab him and form a bond with Russell Westbrook. Now, George is an unrestricted free agent that could make 40 million dollars more by signing back with OKC than he would if he went somewhere else.
The Lakers are now in the same position as last summer and have LeBron James waiting for someone else to join him in LA. This is the time to strike and NOT the time to pinch pennies. If the Spurs want Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, two firsts, and Magic Johnson’s four rings he received with the 80s Lakers, LA should do it.
It is going to take everything the Lakers have in order for Greg Popovich to sign off on a trade that will take one of the best players in the league (when healthy) to Pop’s rival. There are rumors that he will be done coaching after the 2020 summer Olympics. With virtually no stains attached to his legacy, Popovich sure as hell don’t want to go into retirement with the bitter taste of helping the Lakers.
There are a lot of directions the front office can go in right now. Kemba Walker is on the market and could be a perfect fit for the Lakers if they wanted to depart from the buffoonery that the Ball family brings. The Lakers could easily outbid Cleveland for Kemba if George decides to go back to OKC. However, the ultimate prize if Kawhi and if they could wheel him in and show him how glamorous the LA lifestyle is (or maybe they already have), LeBron will be on his next flight out of Cleveland.
On the court fit
The Lakers are in rebuild mode and by that I mean they are trying to create what they had in the Magic-Kareem years. By bringing in multiple superstars, the Lakers would have to start from scratch with their game-plan which is a sacrifice they would be more than willing to make. The Spurs reportedly don’t want Lonzo Ball in any trade proposal so his fit with Leonard and LeBron (assuming he goes there) could be up in the air until they all get reps together.
One underrated storyline for why Kawhi could fit in with the Lakers is that he would be going to a player’s coach in Luke Walton. Leonard is a soft-spoken dude who didn’t like the public criticism he received from Popovich and veterans like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. When he was an assistant coach with the Warriors, Walton learned from Steve Kerr the value of emotional intelligence and could be a positive influence on Kawhi. LA will have high expectations for Leonard and having Walton and LeBron, who has gone through this circus in Miami, will be beneficial for him transitioning into the biggest market in the league.
The Spurs are going to be reluctant to deal Kawhi to LA, but the Lakers are going to offer a package that is going to be very difficult to refuse. Magic Johnson is too desperate to not go all in on Kawhi, and he would be making the correct decision by that.
Front Office Perspective
The 76ers are currently in a bind not having their general manager position filled after the Bryan Colangelo fiasco. This is especially the case since the Sixers have a lot of difficult decisions to make. Head Coach Brett Brown has made it clear that he wants another superstar on the roster. Unfortunately for Brown, the free agent floodgate will open next offseason when players like Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving are off the books for their respective teams.
With that in mind, the Sixers should be in no rush to put all of their assets in a trade for Kawhi. Ben Simmons has three more years left on his rookie deal, and Joel Embiid just signed a massive contract last offseason to remain with the Sixers. Unlike what the Celtics have with Kyrie, Philadelphia doesn’t have to worry about its superstar leaving in a year. This gives them the flexibility to wait and see what they have in Markelle Fultz. The Spurs would most certainly want last year’s first overall pick in a deal with the Sixers which could be tempting since Fultz’s value has diminished since the start of last season.
Kawhi would look great next to Simmons and Embiid and would provide a veteran presence that the young Philly squad needs. The question for the front office is whether the potential of Kawhi leaving after a year is worth it for Dario Saric, Robert Covington (who is a bargain contractually speaking), a young Fultz and one or two first-round picks. They would have a year to sell him on Philly, but it is a risk none the less.
On the court fit
The Sixers are dark horse candidates to land LeBron, but Leonard’s style of play would be a better fit for The Process.
Robert Covington did a fantastic job operating in Brett Brown’s system last year. Kawhi would be even better as Covington is a destitute man’s Leonard. Kawhi would provide an elite defense that pairs well with the Sixers’ frontcourt that is led by Embiid’s shot blocking ability. Simmons would also have another weapon to pass to as Leonard can be both a slasher and off-ball shooting threat.
Adding Kawhi would probably cost them J.J. Reddick who is currently an unrestricted free agent. However, the league is oversaturated with viable guards which could lessen the blow if Reddick chooses to leave.
Like the Lakers, the Sixers are still figuring out the mainstays of their roster which, if they strike a deal to land Leonard, can be built around Kawhi if he chooses to sign with Philly long-term. Based on his intentions of going to LA, that seems unlikely. But if Paul George can have second thoughts about going to LA, why not Kawhi?