Kawhi Leonard Trade Rumors: Gregg Popovich Rule Is Not to Help Teams Like Lakers

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2018

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) talks with head coach Gregg Popovich during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Saturday, March 12, 2016, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 93-85. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
Darren Abate/Associated Press

The San Antonio Spurs may end up trading injured superstar Kawhi Leonard this summer, but you can probably take the Los Angeles Lakers off the list of possible destinations.

As Mark Heisler of the Orange County Register reported, "It’s one of Popovich’s cardinal rules not to help Western Conference rivals, much less one with the tradition and resources of the Lakers."

Popovich, for instance, was less than pleased in 2008 when the Memphis Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers, a deal that helped pave the way for two titles in Los Angeles.

"What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension," Popovich said at the time, per SI.com. "There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I'd like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade."

Of course, it's probably unlikely the Spurs will look to trade a top-five player like Leonard at all. Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that the Spurs are at least trying to give that impression:

"One well-placed insider who has closely monitored this situation told me recently that the Spurs continue to give off signals behind the scenes that they won't trade Leonard. I'm sure they want Leonard to believe that, but this saga has reached the point that a trade has to be considered no less likely than the prospect of a Pop/Kawhi summit that leads to a detente."

Stein noted that the Spurs may find themselves between a rock and a hard place this summer. On the one hand, Leonard will enter the final year of his deal and could leave as a free agent in 2019. On the other, retaining him may mean offering him a $200 supermax extension, a huge financial commitment. 

For the Spurs, the choice likely comes down to smoothing out the relationship with the player after his long and at times bizarre injury hiatus this season and offering him the supermax or simply trading him this summer to the highest bidder.

And there would be bidders, though the longer the Spurs waited to trade him, the less the Spurs could get in return. 

But even if the Spurs were inclined to move Leonard to a team like the Lakers, it's fair to question if Los Angeles would have the assets San Antonio was seeking. The Lakers don't own their first-round pick in 2018, and it might take the entire young trio of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram to acquire Leonard. 

It's fair to question if any of those players would have the star power to entice Popovich in a deal for Leonard. The potential is there, but will any of those players develop into a franchise-leading, MVP threat like Leonard? And would the Lakers even be willing to give up their entire young core for Leonard and a chance at LeBron James in free agency? 

The answer to the first question remains unknown. The answer to the second is probably. But would other teams be able to offer more enticing packages of young players and draft selections?

Again, probably. The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, both in the Eastern Conference and both flush with future draft picks and young, talented players, come to mind. The Celtics have a treasure trove of picks and talented young players like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The Sixers have fewer enticing picks but could dangle players like Dario Saric, Robert Covington or perhaps even rookie Markelle Fultz in a deal.

No matter what happens, one thing is certain: This summer will be fascinating, and potentially transformative, in San Antonio.

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