NBA Rumors: Latest Buzz on Lakers, 76ers, Heat Pursuit of Kawhi Leonard Trade

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJuly 3, 2018

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JANUARY 13:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during the game against the Denver Nuggets on January 13, 2018 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photos by Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports broke the bombshell NBA news Monday that All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins had agreed to a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors.

On paper, this seemingly eliminates any glimmer of hope that anyone can unseat the Dubs for the NBA title next year.

However, there is one superstar out there who can change a playoff team's fortunes and make it a legitimate title contender, and that's San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard

The two-time First-Team All-NBA player has been the subject of trade rumors this offseason following a well-publicized rift between him and the team, per Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

Here's a look at three teams who have been connected to Leonard in recent days.


Los Angeles Lakers

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Leonard's desire to be a Los Angeles Laker:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt

However, Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer noted there hasn't been much progress between L.A. and San Antonio:

"With LeBron [James] officially agreeing to sign with the Lakers, it'll be fascinating to monitor what type of leverage the Spurs can create for Kawhi Leonard, who still desires to play for the Lakers, according to multiple league sources—all of whom say offers to the Spurs have been underwhelming. One executive said the proposed packages have gotten worse with each round of negotiations, while another said they're flat-out unacceptable."

The Lakers' primary problem is they don't have any coveted draft picks to add to a trade package for Leonard. Per RealGM, they don't have any extra first-rounders going their way within the next few years, meaning their most prized draft asset will likely be a low first-round pick in 2019 (assuming James leads the Lakers to a much-improved record).

Per Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post, San Antonio is "believed to be uninterested in Lonzo Ball." That would seemingly leave the rest of the Lakers' young coreforwards Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma and guard Josh Hartas Los Angeles' primary chances for a Leonard trade.

Ingram vastly improved in his second year in the NBA, averaging 16.1 points per game on 47.0 percent shooting in addition to 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Plus, he'll be just 21 years old at the beginning of next season.

Kuzma enjoyed a fantastic rookie season thanks to 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He'll be just 23 years old at the beginning of next year.

Josh Hart saw less court time than Ingram and Kuzma but still fared well, averaging 7.9 points per game. The 23-year-old's ceiling may not be as high as Ingram or Kuzma, but he's still a solid player with a bright NBA future.

Any Leonard-to-the-Lakers trade should center around some combination of those players, but as of now, both sides seem far apart.


Philadelphia 76ers

Wojnarowski also reported the Philadelphia 76ers are in the mix (h/t SportsCenter):

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

The 76ers have engaged in talks with the Spurs on a potential Kawhi Leonard trade. So far, Philly has kept Fultz, Embiid and Simmons off limits in talks, team sources tell @wojespn. https://t.co/PsA3hNMQaw

Ian Begley of ESPN also dropped news on the 76ers' feelings on retaining Leonard long term:

Ian Begley @IanBegley

On the Sixers and a potential trade for Kawhi Leonard, it’s worth noting that there are several people with Philadelphia who feel confident that Leonard would strongly consider re-signing there next summer if they traded for him.

The 76ers have an interesting trade chip in the form of the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round draft pick, which they acquired from the Phoenix Suns in a draft-day trade also involving prospects Mikal Bridges and Zhaire Smith.

That being said, it will take a lot more than one draft pick three years down the road for the two sides to agree upon a deal. 

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated reported a deal "that Philadelphia is weighing internally includes (power forward Dario Saric) and (forward Robert Covington) and the 2021 Miami Heat unprotected first-round pick the Sixers obtained in their draft-night deal with the Phoenix Suns."

However, Fischer went on to note "sources say Philly expressed how highly it values Saric and Covington," so perhaps this potential deal falls through.

Saric and Covington were key starters en route to the 76ers' 52-win season and second-round playoff appearance. The former's three-point percentage improved from 31.1 to 39.3 from his first to second years, and he also raised his field-goal percentage from 41.1 percent to 45.3 percent.

Covington was first among all small forwards in defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN. He also averaged 12.6 points per game and knocked down 41.3 percent of his field goals, which was his highest mark since joining the 76ers in 2014.

However, it should take more than those two players plus that future draft pick in order to obtain a franchise player such as Leonard.

As it is, trading for Leonard would be a big risk for Philadelphia, which isn't guaranteed to keep him after this season.


Miami Heat

Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald discussed the possibility of Leonard heading to Miami, and he also reported on team president Pat Riley's potential plans: "Riley, a league source said, is unwilling to trade a king's ransom for a player entering the final season of his contract who will not commit to a long-term deal to stay with the Heat."

That would seemingly eliminate the Heat from obtaining Leonard. It's hard seeing him agreeing to stay in Miami after 2018-19, when he can opt out of his deal and become a free agent.

As noted before, Wojnarowski reported Leonard wants to be a Laker. If that doesn't pan out, perhaps Philadelphia could pull off a trade and convince the player to stay thanks to its title-contending core.

The problem Miami has is twofold: It is not the Lakers, and it has a playoff-contending roster and not a championship-contending one. The team is tough, scrappy and well-coached, but it will probably take more than Leonard to vault them over the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers and into the NBA Finals.

Ultimately, Miami doesn't seem like Leonard's future home.