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NBA Trade Rumors: Clippers Still Pursuing Kawhi Leonard

Jerry West isn’t giving up easily

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, the Clippers are still attempting to trade for San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Haynes called acquiring Leonard a “high offseason priority” for the Clippers.

Any Clippers package for Leonard likely revolves around Tobias Harris, but the team can also add value by including veteran point guard Patrick Beverley and a future first-round pick. Those assets fall short of the long-term upside that could come in potential offers from the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, or Philadelphia 76ers, but Harris and Beverley allow the Spurs to be more competitive in the short-term—and it’s been a long time since San Antonio accepted bottoming out and rebuilding long-term. It especially doesn’t seem likely as Gregg Popovich nears 70 years old and could be looking to stay competitive in the closing years of his career.

There’s one more area where the Clippers can help that the Lakers, Celtics, and Sixers can’t—with salary cap relief. The Spurs have rather large, multi-year salaries remaining for Paul Gasol and Patty Mills, and the Clippers have a host of expiring contracts that can be exchanged to provide the Spurs with cap relief as soon as the summer of 2019. It isn’t as good as having Kawhi, but Pop is always going to be a draw for free agents who he likes, and he’d be able to have a lot of fun with a wide-open cap sheet next summer. That flexibility may be more intriguing to the Spurs than the superior prospects that other teams can offer.

In order to make salary matching work for Gasol and Mills, the Clippers would have to include more outgoing expiring contracts. Recently-acquired center Marcin Gortat works in a straight-up swap for Gasol, while Tobias Harris isn’t quite enough to fit Leonard’s deal. The Clippers would need to include a small salary, likely Sam Dekker’s, to work that portion of the trade. Finally, Patrick Beverley needs to be accompanied by either Wesley Johnson or Boban Marjanovic to make salaries work for the Clippers to absorb the three years and $37 million remaining on Mills’ contract. All in all, the Spurs get two big-time contributors in Harris and Beverley, a replacement big man for Gasol in Gortat, and a future pick—but, most importantly, they are left with only LaMarcus Aldridge and prospects on the roster next July, potentially giving them upwards of $60 million to bring some pieces back and add outside free agents to build a new team around Aldridge.