The news broke late Friday morning: Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. The eery and strangely-developed drama between the two sides is too much to overcome, and Leonard feels its best for a fresh start. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski also reports that his camp has requested a few places for a targeted destination, focusing around Los Angeles.
The Spurs are in a unique position to oblige him, coming after last season where three All-NBA caliber superstars (Paul George, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving) all switched teams. Those trades proved that having a superstar demand a trade doesn't mean leverage is evaporated, and the Spurs will still look to find the right value for Kawhi. This trade is particularly telling for Leonard, though: he's willing to sacrifice the potential SuperMax deal he could sign with San Antonio just to get a new hold.
That said, Leonard is on the final guaranteed year of his contract, with a player option for 2019-20 that he's likely to decline. How much will a team give up without further assurances that Leonard will re-sign with them? What will San Antonio's asking price be given the uncertain nature of Leonard's health? There's a lot to unpack with his trade value.
We attempted to unpack the best destinations for Leonard here at the Box and One, with a tasting of a few trades that could procure the former NBA Finals MVP.
A couple nuts and bolts before we get there:
-The Spurs have the leverage to decide when to make the trade official. They can make a swap before July 1st, in which case the maneuvering around of monies will also affect the 2017-18 cap status. Or they could wait until after July 1st and agree on a deal pre-draft, which gives other teams more flexibility to have additional spending room, helping them avoid the luxury tax.
-Leonard has a 15% trade kicker in his contract, and that changes based on when he's officially traded. His 2017-18 contract was for $18.868,625, so if he's traded before July 1st his outgoing trade value is $21,698,919. If he's traded after July 1st and the start of a new cap year, that 15 percent gets calculated on his 2018-19 salary, which is $20,099,189. That new outgoing salary: $23,114,068.
-The Spurs cannot include Danny Green, Rudy Gay or Joffrey Lauvergne in any deals unless the exercise their player options first. The only players that can change hands immediately: LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Brandon Paul.
Scenario #1: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers trade F Tobias Harris, PG Patrick Beverley, the 12th and 13th picks in the 2018 NBA Draft and a 2022 first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for F Kawhi Leonard, the 18th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and a 2020 protected second-round pick.
If you ask me, this is the best deal for both the Spurs and for Leonard. Kawhi goes to the Clippers, a team that has a ready-made NBA big man in DeAndre Jordan and multiple pieces to build with. Los Angeles is his preferred destination as it's home for him, and he gets to go to the team that has a proven winner in a coach, a great President in Jerry West and an owner committed to paying for a championship contender. Here Kawhi is also not on the Lakers big stage and bright lights, allowing him to continue to be a more sheltered, reserved superstar.
On the court the Clippers would likely try to retain point guard Milos Teodosic this summer after the news of a Kawhi trade, giving them a formidable starting group of Teodosic, Lou Williams, Kawhi, Danilo Gallinari and DeAndre Jordan. Austin Rivers would anchor the bench group, while Jerry West still would have $5.3 million between them and the luxury tax, and $11.3 million away from the tax apron. In this scenario the Clippers would be giving up both lottery picks in a Kawhi trade, but also be able to snag one more key player in the draft by trading back to 18th.
The Clippers could structure the trade here in any way San Antonio preferred: in the current or next fiscal year. They're shedding salary by taking on this year's Kawhi contract, which keeps them below the luxury tax line, the organizational imperative of the Clippers.
For San Antonio, this deal makes sense for a couple of reasons. One it allows them complete flexibility for how to move on from the Kawhi era without dictating they stay competing or rebuild. The picks are the centerpiece of the deal and could allow the Spurs, with picks 12 and 13, to completely revamp the way they take a shot at Golden State and Houston. Adding those selections, a versatile scoring forward in Tobias Harris (who is only 26 years old and coming off a career year) and one of the best perimeter defenders in the game could cushion their aging roster.
There's also flexibility built in if they want to change things around. Next summer will be a year of great fluidity in San Antonio, where guys like Parker and Ginobili may finally hang it up, Danny Green and Rudy Gay will assuredly be off the books, Pau Gasol only has a partial guarantee remaining and LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills are the only guys under contract. If their grand experiment doesn't work, they'd then get to completely rebuild around the two 2018 picks and Dejounte Murray as their core, plus have the Bird rights to Harris.
Scenario #2 - Philadelphia 76ers
The San Antonio Spurs send F Kawhi Leonard to Philadelphia for G Jerryd Bayless, F Dario Saric, G Markelle Fultz and the 10th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft
This is a pretty aggressive offer from the Sixers, but it's one that basically opens their window to being right now and closes the Spurs for the next year or two. From a pure talent perspective, it might be difficult for the Spurs to turn this one down... depending on how comfortable they feel with Fultz.
The red flags and question marks revolving around Fultz are brighter and flying higher than those around Kawhi's quad injury, so it's strange to see him as the headliner in a deal. That's why Philadelphia also includes the valuable Saric and the 10th pick in this year's draft. From a Kawhi perspective, he'd look to re-up with the Sixers and build their core with himself, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The Sixers would also preserve enough room to retain J.J. Redick this summer, have Robert Covington still under contract and potential Mid-Level Exceptions. They're an instant contender in the Eastern Conference.
On the other hand, the Spurs have their backcourt of the future in Fultz and Dejounte Murray, a playmaking versatile forward in Dario Saric and plenty of cap space in 2019 when Bayless, Rudy Gay and Danny Green disappear from their books. The only way the Spurs accept this deal is if they're comfortable with a rebuild, and if you ask me that's not what they'll want to do under Popovich if they can construct a better trade that allows them to hang in the picture out West.
Scenario #3 - New York Knicks
San Antonio trades F Kawhi Leonard and PG Patty Mills to the Knicks for C Enes Kanter, PG Frank Ntilikina, G/F Courtney Lee, the 9th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and an unprotected 2020 first-round pick.
Stolen and tweaked from my friend and colleague Dan Favale, this is actually a trade destination that makes a ton of sense for Kawhi. He spends a great deal of time in the Big Apple working out and rehabbing, has expressed interest in a larger market and would have a clearer path to winning in the Eastern Conference. A combination of him and Kristaps Porzingis, along with raved-about head coach David Fizdale, could loft the Knicks onto the long-term destination list.
The Knicks would have to give up last year's lottery pick Ntilikina, this year's lottery pick and a 2020 first-rounder, but that's plenty worth it to procure Kawhi's services. They'd also have to eat Patty Mills as their point guard for the next three seasons. I'm not sure how the Knicks fill things out next season without Porzingis and limited space this summer, plus no draft pick, but this is a long-term play by the organization. It also limits their ability to pay someone to take on the Joakim Noah deal. There are real consequences here, none bigger than the prospect of Kawhi leaving New York next summer if he isn't satisfied with the way the Knicks perform in what should be a frustrating season ahead.
From San Antonio's perspective, they'll salivate about the long-term ability in the backcourt of Ntilikina and Dejounte Murray as long, versatile defenders. The 9th pick could provide them the opportunity to add a big piece in this year's draft as well, and the 2020 first-rounder could have a great deal of value if Kawhi eventually leaves New York. This is an interesting scenario, and one that ultimately could come to fruition if other teams are bullish about Kawhi.
Scenario #4: Los Angeles Lakers
The San Antonio Spurs send F Kawhi Leonard to Los Angeles for F Brandon Ingram, the 25th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, and 2020 and 2022 first-round picks.
The Lakers are the rumored destination for Kawhi and have been for a while, but I don't like any deals they can construct from a Spurs perspective. There's a limited amount of trade assets the Lakers have right now: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Tyler Ennis, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac, as well as future draft picks. The Lakers will be far enough under the cap that they can absorb Leonard in the next cap year without having to send Deng as outgoing salary filler.
The issue comes in other forms of compensation. Trading Kawhi to Los Angeles makes the team more competitive, and in turn devalues their future first-round picks. Do the Spurs really value Brandon Ingram and a few other late first-rounders as the best deal they can get for Kawhi? Would the Lakers give up a young scoring wing brimming with upside and three other first-round picks for a player they might be able to poach in free agency next year if they play their cards right?
At the end of the day, the Lakers would pull the trigger on this deal, netting them the star two-way player they crave. San Antonio though might need a sweetener to choose this over some other deals available to them.
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).