Updated Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Kawhi Leonard After NBA Draft
The San Antonio Spurs did not trade Kawhi Leonard—to the Los Angeles Lakers or anyone else—during Thursday's NBA draft. In fact, they made it clear they're in no rush to move the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and 2014 Finals MVP at all.
"Kawhi and his family mean a lot to our organization and to our community," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told reporters in his first public comments since Leonard's widely reported trade request June 15. "While none of us would wish we are where we are, we are going to do what we can do to build the best relationship we can with him. We will explore all of our options, but the first one would be to keep Kawhi as part of our group."
Multiple reports have indicated Leonard, who can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer, would prefer to be traded to his native Los Angeles and, more specifically, to the Lakers. Despite this, USA Today's Sam Amick reported the Spurs would rather not trade Leonard, but if they do, they'd prefer to move him to an Eastern Conference club.
But any reports that the Spurs won't trade him to a Western team are likely just a bargaining play to get West teams to up their offer. The West teams listed below will be in contention for a Leonard trade as long as he insists on ending up in L.A.
There are a lot of moving parts in relation to Leonard's situation. Several big names, including LeBron James and Paul George, could change teams via free agency and join squads, such as the Lakers or Philadelphia 76ers, that may be interested in trading for Leonard. The Spurs have indicated they hope to repair their relationship with Leonard and may even want to sign him to the five-year, $219 million extension only they can offer. How those factors play out will influence what kind of proposals they get for Leonard and thus their likelihood of trading him.
With all that in mind, here's where things stand for Leonard with less than a week to go before free agency.
Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers get: Kawhi Leonard
San Antonio Spurs get: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Luol Deng, future first-round pick
The Spurs don't appear especially inclined to trade Leonard to the Lakers, but Los Angeles has been widely reported as his preferred destination, and it has the ability to put together an attractive package for San Antonio.
The prizes for the Spurs would be Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the promising young forwards who along with point guard Dejounte Murray and newly minted first-round pick Lonnie Walker IV would form a promising young core for the next era of San Antonio basketball. The Lakers would undoubtedly be open to including Lonzo Ball in place of Ingram or Kuzma, but it's tough to imagine Gregg Popovich wanting any part of the off-court circus that comes with Ball.
Outside the Spurs' lack of interest in helping the Lakers, the biggest hurdle would be the inclusion of the two years and $36.8 million left on Luol Deng's contract, one of the worst deals in the league. But it would be nearly impossible to make the money work without including Deng. If L.A. included extra assets, like guard Josh Hart and a pick (it owns all its first-rounders going forward), that could be enough for San Antonio.
As much as the Spurs don't want to help the Lakers get Leonard to potentially pair with James and/or George, they have to do what's best for themselves above all else. If the relationship with Leonard proves to be irreparable, two prospects with ceilings as high as Ingram's and Kuzma's would be a good trade-off.
Philadelphia 76ers get: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
San Antonio Spurs get: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick
The Sixers are one of the teams widely believed to be pursuing James, and adding Leonard to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could bolster their case. They have as attractive a foundation as anyone in the league, and head coach and acting general manager Brett Brown spent 11 years as an assistant under Popovich on the Spurs coaching staff.
San Antonio would get last year's No. 1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz, who had a disastrous and inexplicable rookie season in which he forgot how to shoot. Fultz still has a lot of talent and potential and could benefit from a change of scenery and an environment with a strong player-development staff. The Spurs would also get forward Dario Saric, who is a proven starter with room to grow and has two years remaining on a cheap rookie contract. Robert Covington is a capable three-and-D wing on a fair contract, making $11.7 million per year for the next four years, who San Antonio could either keep or trade to a playoff team for more assets if it decides to rebuild. Guard Jerryd Bayless has an $8.6 million expiring contract and could be flipped or bought out.
The Sixers picked up the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick from the Phoenix Suns in the Zhaire Smith-Mikal Bridges trade on draft night, giving them another attractive asset that could tempt the Spurs.
In addition, Philadelphia has the financial flexibility to help San Antonio's long-term cap sheet by taking on the remaining three years and $37.3 million of guard Patty Mills' contract. Mills is a useful backup who could play for the 76ers, and the Spurs shouldn't mind getting off that money if they're going to move on from Leonard and take a step back in the short term.
The risk for the Sixers is that Leonard would not want to stay in Philly and that they would've given up a lot of assets for a one-year rental. But after years of futility, the 76ers are in position to win a championship with the Simmons-Embiid core. Doing that will require taking some big swings, like the Oklahoma City Thunder's trade for George last summer. Adding Leonard would make the Sixers the favorites in the Eastern Conference, especially if James leaves the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Boston Celtics get: Kawhi Leonard
San Antonio Spurs get: Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, 2019 first-round picks from Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings
The Boston Celtics could top any offer for Leonard if they included forward Jayson Tatum, who displayed superstar potential in his rookie season. Assuming that's a non-starter for Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, which it almost certainly is, Boston still has plenty to offer San Antonio.
Jaylen Brown is just 21 years old, and he's already a proven playoff performer who started all 70 games he played for a team that pushed the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Terry Rozier took a major leap forward in his third season, starting in the playoffs after Kyrie Irving underwent season-ending knee surgery. Other pieces such as forward Marcus Morris could be included to make the salaries match.
Besides Brown, the Celtics' best assets are their first-round picks from other teams. They own the more favorable of the 76ers' or Sacramento Kings' selection next year, with both protected only for the No. 1 overall pick, as well as a top-eight-protected pick from the Memphis Grizzlies and a lottery-protected pick from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Spurs could have their pick of any one or two of those.
Cleveland Cavaliers get: Kawhi Leonard
San Antonio Spurs get: George Hill, draft rights to Collin Sexton, 2021 first-round pick
Cleveland will do whatever it takes in the next week to get James to stay, and trading for Leonard would go a long way toward convincing him it can stay competitive for at least one more year before Leonard hits free agency.
Leonard and George Hill have already been traded for each other once, on draft night in 2011, and Hill's $19 million salary for next season would make salary-matching easy. Hill's $18 million salary in 2019-20 is only $1 million guaranteed, per Spotrac, so the deal wouldn't require the Spurs to take on any long-term money. The prizes would be the just-drafted Collin Sexton, a tough, defensive-minded point guard under four years of cheap team control, and a future unprotected first-rounder.
The Cavaliers have limited assets compared to other teams that could get in the mix to acquire Leonard, but they'll be among the most aggressive if they think it will increase their chances to keep James. An added benefit for the Spurs—if they're determined to trade Leonard to the East—is that sending him to the Cavs could decrease the likelihood that James will sign with the Lakers, one of the teams most strongly linked to James. It's a long shot, but the conversation will be had.
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers get: Kawhi Leonard
San Antonio Spurs get: Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, Jerome Robinson, future first-round pick
Leonard's widely reported preferred destination is the Lakers, but the Los Angeles Clippers have to feel as though they'd have a chance to re-sign him if they trade for him. Assuming center DeAndre Jordan opts in or re-signs, the Clippers could pair him with Leonard and push next season to return to the playoffs after their first lottery appearance since 2011.
For the Spurs, this is the deal to make if their goal is to stay competitive in the short term rather than rebuild. Tobias Harris (on a $14.8 million expiring contract) is a starting-caliber small forward, and Patrick Beverley, assuming he's healthy after undergoing season-ending knee surgery in November, is the kind of defensive-minded guard Popovich loves. Throw in a young player like Jerome Robinson and a future pick, and there's a workable package.
As with the Lakers, the caveat is the Spurs' reported distaste for doing a Leonard deal with a Western Conference team. In the short term, San Antonio is in no rush to come off that position and has time to wait for a deal it likes. The situation will be resolved one way or the other by February's trade deadline. If the Spurs keep Leonard that long and he still wants to leave, teams may pull their best offers off the table, which could work to the Clippers' advantage. Most of the other squads in the mix for Leonard will be playoff teams regardless; for L.A., Leonard could be the difference between making the playoffs and missing them.