According to multiple reputable NBA reporters, San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard seems to be on his way out of San Antonio. While it’s been the case for months that tensions have been high between the Spurs and their best player, this is the first time that trade chatter has ventured from speculation into solid rumors. There’s still no guarantee that Leonard will be traded, but as of now, it seems likely that serious talks will at least occur leading into next week’s NBA Draft.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski notes that Los Angeles is Kawhi’s preferred destination, putting emphasis on the Lakers as a possible landing spot. The Lakers have been angling to maximize their 2018 cap space for years and are expected to make runs at star free agents Paul George and LeBron James. While fitting all three stars would take serious cap gymnastics, the Lakers definitely have the flexibility to acquire two—and landing Kawhi via trade before free agency would be a great first step towards recruiting James or George.
The Lakers are far from the only team who will be interested in Leonard, though. Every team in the NBA could use a 27-year-old former Finals MVP and two-time defensive player of the year who averaged 26 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Already, the Clippers, Kings, and Celtics are among the many teams who have been rumored to be pursuing Leonard following today’s developments. Kawhi’s contract, however, complicates the situation for many teams. He has one season remaining at just over $20 million, with a player option for $21.3 million in 2019-20 that he is sure to decline. Any team giving up major stars, prospects, or picks for Kawhi has to be concerned that it could potentially be a one-year rental. Without internal confidence or external assurance from Kawhi that he will stay in free agency, it’s incredibly risky to offer a competitive package, which is exactly why a team like the Kings—who certainly have the assets to beat out teams like the Lakers or Clippers—may shy away from putting together a godfather offer.
Right now, any potential trade packages are purely speculative, but the Clippers could probably build an enticing deal around Tobias Harris and the team’s two lottery picks in this year’s draft. It’s a tall price to pay, but Leonard has proven that he can lead a championship team, and when opportunities to acquire such players arise, they need to be capitalized upon.