| The Spurs star reportedly wants out, and has his sights set on Los Angeles. But could the Sixers offer San Antonio a more tempting deal? |
After Yahoo sports reported on Friday afternoon that Kawhi Leonard wants to be traded, NBA fan bases collectively began the speculation. As a native of the Los Angeles area, many presumed that Leonard would prefer to play for his hometown Lakers. This hunch was later confirmed by Adrian Wojnarowski.
Leonard has one year left on his contract and missed almost all of last season with a quad injury. There’s considerable risk in trading for him, especially with his eyes focused on Los Angeles. But risk has never stopped teams from trying to acquire good players.
Presumably, there are 3 realistic landing spots for Leonard; the Lakers, the Celtics, and the 76ers. The hometown connection to the Lakers is obvious, and reportedly a very real thing. But the Spurs might not want to trade him within the Western Conference. Meanwhile Boston and Philadelphia have the best collection of assets to include in a trade, and neither have been shy about their interest in acquiring a superstar this summer.
There are pros and cons to each destination. The Lakers arguably have the most flexibility to completely change their roster once they get Leonard, and want to make a pitch for LeBron James this summer as well. Hell, they could acquire Kawhi, James, AND Paul George if they can shed Luol Deng’s $18 million salary. However, they’re clearly the furthest away from winning a title when compared to Boston and Philadelphia. And in order to acquire Kawhi, they’ll likely have to trade at least one of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, or Kyle Kuzma. So if Leonard truly wants to play for his hometown team, it will likely come with less initial success than he’s experienced so far in San Antonio.
Boston can offer the best package; first round picks, whether it’s their own, Sacramento’s, or Memphis’s. They would also include a young player like Jaylen Brown or Terry Rozier, both of whom have playoff minutes on their young resumes. On the flip side, in giving up a large haul for Kawhi the Celtics would sacrifice some of the depth that makes them so competitive. And if Leonard truly has hit heart set on the Lakers, playing for their biggest rival might give him pause.
Finally, the Sixers might have an in-road because of Brett Brown’s connection to San Antonio. His tenure there overlapped with Kawhi’s first two seasons with the team. If Kawhi wants a sense of familiarity, the Sixers make a lot of sense.
However, Kawhi’s frustration with the Spurs allegedly stems from how they’ve handled the injury that kept him out for most of last season. The Sixers have handled injuries to their star players pretty poorly over the past few seasons. If Kawhi wants to avoid a headache, he’ll probably avoid Philadelphia.
Ultimately it might not matter what Kawhi wants; the Spurs are in a tough situation and need to extract value from their star’s departure. The Sixers can offer a nice haul. It’s going to be a matter of how much they’re willing to give. Presumably, the Sixers would have to include their 10th overall selection in next week’s draft, possibly another future draft pick, as well as a player like Robert Covington, Dario Saric, or Markelle Fultz.
Covington is a Process darling, and having just signed a new deal this season it would sting to trade him away. But Leonard is a considerable upgrade, and Covington’s modest cap hit makes the trade easier. Saric seems like a player that Greg Popovich would love, and would probably remind the Spurs’ coach of Boris Diaw. However it might be possible for the Sixers to keep Fultz. The Spurs already have a 2nd Team All-NBA Defensive point guard in DeJounte Murray. If San Antonio isn’t confident in Fultz improving his shot (or, you know, ever playing), maybe they don’t ask for Fultz.
The Sixers have made it very clear that they will pursue a super star this summer. Kawhi might be the riskiest option out there for a number of reasons, but don’t think that will stop Philly from trying.