"San Antonio has informed teams its preferred target in any Leonard trade is the Celtics' Jayson Tatum, sources say. Teams have noted this is likely a negotiating tactic, and it's widely believed in league circles Boston is more likely to propose a deal centered around Kyrie Irving and future picks. But based on previous behavior, the Celtics are unlikely to overpay for Leonard."
Dealing the 26-year-old Irving after just one season with the team would be a fascinating development. He was the centerpiece of last summer's biggest trade when Boston acquired him from the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was excellent for the Celtics when healthy, averaging 24.4 points and 5.1 assists per game.
But a knee surgery cost him the end of the regular season and the playoffs, leaving both of Boston's major offseason additions out of action. Free-agent signing Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the first game of the season and missed the rest of the campaign.
Behind Al Horford and the team's young stars, Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics still advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, losing in seven games to the Cavs.
The Celtics, as currently constructed, would be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the 2018-19 season. The question is whether they're willing to break up their current core or dip into their reservoir of future picks to land Leonard, especially without a guarantee he would sign a long-term extension.
Trading Irving for Leonard would also create a logjam on the wing with Leonard, Tatum, Brown and Hayward. At least one of those players would have to be comfortable with a role off the bench.
On the other hand, having four versatile wing players would make the Celtics a fascinating matchup for the Golden State Warriors. The team's length and switchability would be nightmarish to face on defense, and having shot-creators like Tatum and Leonard would mitigate the loss of Irving.
Having Terry Rozier at the point would also dampen the impact of that loss.
Still, it remains to be seen if the Spurs would be interested in Irving. They may be more inclined to acquire a young, cheap and potentially elite wing. Even if Tatum is off the table, Brown would be a solid alternative, especially if he's paired with another player or two and future picks.
Boston has the assets to make the Spurs the best possible deal. The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have intriguing assets as well, however, and the Spurs will likely attempt to facilitate a bidding war among the three organizations.