Let me officially welcome you into the crazy, topsy-turvy portion of the NBA offseason. The biggest domino waiting to fall relating to Kawhi Leonard’s future in San Antonio has finally fallen, according to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania.
Kawhi Leonard wants out from the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell Yahoo.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 15, 2018
Now, over the next six days leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft, expect many rumors to be flying all over the place related to Leonard and where he could possibly land later this summer.
As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski let us know on Friday morning, the Los Angeles Lakers are Leonard’s preferred destination (no surprise there) but the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers will move quickly to assemble trade packages for the Spurs.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
Sources: So far, Leonard has expressed nothing directly to Spurs about future. Lakers and Clippers interest Leonard -- and both teams would move quickly to assemble packages to acquire Leonard. Spurs won't rush. Leonard and his camp had shown interest in $219M super max deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
If Kawhi Leonard does become available in trade talks, the Boston Celtics will be interested in probing the Spurs about a deal, league sources tell ESPN. Boston inquired about a trade prior to the February deadline, sources said.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
From the Suns’ point of view, how should they maneuver the market after this bombshell that will surely send shockwaves all throughout the league? It’s an interesting conundrum, because all three routes — trading for Leonard, helping facilitate a multi-team trade, or completely staying out of it — could all be the possibility on the board for Phoenix.
After backing out last summer on the Kyrie Irving trade that would have shipped Eric Bledsoe and Josh Jackson to Cleveland, will the Suns’ aggressive mindset lead them towards inquiring about constructing a huge offer San Antonio’s way? It certainly could happen, so what would it likely take?
It would have to involve Jackson, who the Spurs were rumored to be trying to move up for last year, alongside the No. 16 pick and two to three future first rounders (likely two of 2019 Suns 1st, Milwaukee 1st and 2021 Miami 1st). Comparing their assets to Boston and Los Angeles (Lakers + Clippers), they lag behind in pick and player value but GM Ryan McDonough could be desperate enough to throw a Godfather-like offer San Antonio’s way.
Something along the lines of this could intrigue the Spurs enough to advance to the next stage in the negotiating process:
Suns receive: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs receive: Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler, No. 16, 2019 Suns 1st (top 3 protected), 2021 Miami pick
That may seem like a ton, but Boston could throw San Antonio one of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum alongside their 2019 pick via Sacramento that trumps it rather easily. Also, the Lakers tossing in Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram also vaults above Phoenix, too.
From McDonough’s point of view, he likely needs to kick the tires on trying to acquire Leonard, and let me tell you why.
Entering the second to last year of his contract extension, which runs out at the end of the 2019-2020 season, McDonough needs to start swinging for the fences with the assets he has stockpiled since 2015. If the Suns are not in the playoffs, or at least on the edge with significant improvement, McDonough will be canned. Simple as that.
Sure, rolling the proverbial dice on someone who seems to be eyeing a bigger market long term could be a huge mistake but McDonough could realize his job is on the line. I think for the Suns to maintain their aggressive mindset, it wouldn't surprise me to see a report of them kicking the tires on Leonard here soon.
However, what we should think about here is what could happen if Leonard doesn’t commit to Phoenix past 2019. Entering unrestricted free agency that summer, the Suns would be completely relying on Leonard falling in love with playing alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
If he still believes after a year they are too far away from title contention, Leonard could just leave, which would be by far the worst-case scenario when factoring in Booker. At that point, it wouldn’t surprise me if Booker was out the door a few years down the line, because assets would be gone and the Suns would be going in reverse instead.
That’s getting way ahead, but when factoring in trades for superstars you have to look 3-5 plus years ahead. Trading for Leonard and then the next year he’s somewhere else would signal the end for McDonough and many others in Phoenix.
Going in a different direction compared to acquiring Leonard, Phoenix could maintain their aggressiveness by helping facilitate a three-team deal landing them one more young player to add into their core.
And after avoiding D’Angelo Russell to take on Timofey Mozgov’s contract, Phoenix could view finding their point guard of the future in this scenario one year later.
With the Lakers wanting to possibly add LeBron James, Paul George and now Leonard, almost all of their young core will have to go. Not only isn’t LeBron waiting around for their players age 21 and under to develop, but it’s never happened yet in his career. When he left Cleveland the first time, he created his own roster surrounding himself with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Years later, we could be seeing Miami 2.0 go down in Los Angeles. How could it work for the Lakers to land all three and immediately become a win-now contender? Here’s what I came up with, which includes plenty of picks going around each way.
Lakers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Alan Williams (non-guaranteed contract)
Suns receive: Lonzo Ball, Luol Deng
Spurs receive: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Tyson Chandler
From Los Angeles’ point of view, they now have added in Leonard and can go about signing LeBron and George to max contracts. Losing Ball, Ingram and Kuzma is rough but letting them go is the only way this likely goes down. Meanwhile, San Antonio lands multiple future first rounders alongside their new starters on the wing in Ingram and Kuzma. Phoenix takes on Luol Deng’s contract (2 years, $36 million remaining), but they land Ball in the process to cap off their core including Booker, Jackson and Ayton.
That’s a win-win from all sides, in my opinion, and especially from the Suns’ point of view it’s very interesting. They could either stretch Deng’s contract or let him run out alongside Brandon Knight in 2019-2020. If they were to stretch Deng, he would be on the books until 2022 at around $7 million per year but it would allow them enough room to sign one win-now free agent this summer.
The Suns’ free agent flexibility over the next two summers is pretty much wiped out, excluding possible mid-level exception type deals, but a lineup of Ball-Booker-Jackson-Ayton would be very attractive once they have room for two other max slots two summers from now.
These types of conversations are surely happening now within the front office, but how should they go about maneuvering this latest news? Set up as one of the few teams with cap space and future flexibility this summer, Phoenix is in position to go about disgruntled star trades in any direction they want to.
The big question will be whether trading for Leonard, or even helping facilitate to acquire one more young player, is the right move for this franchise right now.
Phoenix is on the clock right now for next week’s draft, but Friday’s bombshell about Leonard has begun the craziness of this year’s NBA offseason.