The San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard are headed for a divorce. That’s the way the winds are blowing and it’s obvious for all to see. The relationship appears irreparably damaged. If that’s truly the case, the Spurs have to move Leonard this offseason to ensure they get value for him before he can opt out of his contract in 2019.
What we have below is a list of five potential trades for Leonard. All of them have been run through the trade machine and the money works. We’re also going to assume Leonard would agree to a big-money extension with whichever team he’s traded to in this scenario.
You’ll notice two big omissions from the list: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. For the Celtics, I could not come up with a realistic scenario for a trade given Danny Ainge’s reluctance to part with any young players or draft assets, and the presence of so many wings on Boston’s roster. As for the Lakers, Gregg Popovich has a longstanding rule not to trade with them, so it’s highly unlikely he’d break it to give up his best player.
Here’s our look at the five most likely trade scenarios for the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard:
The Phoenix Suns are looking to make a jump next season and while they have a number of young, talented players, they need an established star to give the franchise’s rebuild a boost. With the Spurs desperately in need of some young, athletic players, a deal with Phoenix makes sense for both parties.
In this trade, the Suns get Kawhi, but have to surrender two young building blocks. Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender head to San Antonio, along with Jared Dudley’s salary. The Suns also send the Spurs Miami’s 2018 first-round pick.
Suns get: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Jared Dudley, Miami’s 2018 first-round pick
The Milwaukee Bucks are already a playoff team, but they need to make some serious moves to convince Giannis Antetokounmpo they should be his franchise for good. Adding Leonard to their roster could create one of the NBA’s top duos. Keeping Eric Bledsoe around would make it a trio.
The Spurs would get younger, add a two-way wing in Middleton and a ton of potential in Maker.
Bucks get: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Khris Middleton, Thon Maker
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers need something, anything to give them some buzz, because they’re not even a mildly entertaining failure right now. Leonard is from southern California and might welcome a move back home to play for a deep-pocketed owner in Steve Ballmer.
In exchange, the Spurs would get an underrated scorer in Tobias Harris, a defensive stopper who can shoot it from deep in Patrick Beverley and Sam Dekker, a talented wing whose growth has been stunted in LA. The Clippers would throw in their first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft and a second rounder in 2019 as well.
Clippers get: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Clippers 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick (from Portland, Orlando, Cleveland or Houston)
“The Process” has played out and the Philadelphia 76ers are in position too make some big-boy moves. While this young, talented roster is stocked, it needs one last thing to take it over the top: a star on the wing. Leonard would be the perfect addition to this group, and while the Sixers will go after LeBron James this summer, Kawhi is actually a better fit.
To get him, the Sixers would have to surrender some precious assets, but in the end it would be worth it. In this deal they’d trade 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, 22-year-old wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Jerryd Bayless’ contract to the Spurs in exchange for Leonard. Philly would also throw in its 2018 first-round pick.
Fultz is a great young player, but he seems like an awkward fit in Philly given Ben Simmons’ play this season. Saric is a tough piece to give up as well, but you’re going to have to make difficult decisions to get a perennial MVP contender.
Sixers get: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jerryd Bayless, Sixers 2018 first-round pick
Let’s just pretend for a moment that the Cavs find a way to convince LeBron James to stick around for one more year. If that happens, this trade isn’t as crazy as it seems on the surface.
The Cavs would ship George Hill, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, Larry Nance Jr. and (most importantly) Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick to the Spurs. In exchange, Cleveland would receive Leonard and Patty Mills.
The Spurs would get a lot of young, athletic potential in Osman, Zizic and Nance, while also securing a lottery pick in a seriously deep draft. While the two years and $37 million left on Hill’s deal aren’t great, he could likely be moved again, and the $18 million he’s owed in 2019-2020 is not guaranteed.
Cavs get: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Spurs get: George Hill, Cedi Osman, Ante Zizic, Larry Nance Jr., Brooklyn’s 2018 first-round pick