Before ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski or New York Times writer Marc Stein breaks the big news that renders this article irrelevant, here are three potential blockbuster trades featuring injured San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. While two of the three teams below made the playoffs this past year, both of those squads have been at the forefront of evolving team-building (and lottery-related) conversations over the last half decade.
Boston Celtics: Kyrie Irving for Kawhi Leonard
Perhaps the Celtics would be willing to include Sacramento’s first round pick as well if the bidding war gets out of hand. Regardless, Boston has the star power and collection of draft picks to top the majority of opposing offers. Irving and Leonard both come with injury risks. Danny Ainge would probably prefer to part with Gordon Hayward (who’s set to earn $10 million more than Kawhi in 2018-19). Still, if the Spurs are truly hoping to maintain their status as a playoff club, Irving is an obvious fit for the immediate future.
The Sixers could snag Leonard right now if they wanted. But it would require relinquishing Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. That’s not going to happen. (Sorry Spurs fans.) Instead, Philadelphia is likely in the process of determining their godfather offer. That could include any number of the following assets: Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Zhaire Smith, and Miami’s 2021 first round pick. There’s also Sacramento’s 2019 first-rounder, but that’ll belong to Boston unless it’s first overall. If push comes to shove, the Sixers should be willing to surrender most of those assets, particularly if they buy the idea that adding Kawhi can sway LeBron.
However, my starting offer would be Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Miami’s 2021 first round pick, and Sacramento’s potential number one selection. Gregg Popovich may not be interested in a rebuild, but that seems to be the best option moving forward, at least in my opinion. Meanwhile, if I’m running the Sixers, I’d rather move Fultz than Covington because in a best case scenario (with James and Leonard in tow), Rob is providing the pivotal 3-and-D skillset while a higher-usage guard like Markelle isn’t as necessary.
Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and two first round picks (2019, 2021)
Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka are walking a tightrope. And the Lakers are definitely the most desperate team of these three, that is unless LeBron James suddenly commits to sign there well in advance of any potential Leonard deal. If James does sign with Los Angeles, that could convince the Lakers to play the waiting game. Of course that could also result in Kawhi being traded elsewhere — and then staying there long-term (perhaps Philly or Boston).
The Spurs could pull the trigger on the aforementioned deal if Philly and Boston hesitate to put together appropriately ample packages. But the Lakers don’t have a surplus of talent or draft picks like Boston or Philly. I’m not sure L.A. could stomach including Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart. We all remember how New York emptying their cabinet for Carmelo Anthony turned out.
Based on the fact that the Lakers are in the LeBron conversation, it’s reasonable to believe James will sign in L.A. if Kawhi is brought aboard. For as good a position as the Lakers find themselves (all things considering), it is not necessarily an enviable one, as this could all blow up in their face.