Last summer, LaMarcus Aldridge told Gregg Popovich he wasn’t happy and wanted to be traded out of San Antonio. The result was a “come to Jesus” meeting between the two.
“I was very candid with him. I told him, ‘you get me a talent like Kevin Durant and I’ll drive you to the airport. I’ll pack your bags, I’ll drive you there, I’ll get you on the plane and I’ll get you seated,’” Popovich said with a smile. “And he laughed at that. But short of that, I’m your best buddy, because you’re here for another year and you’re not going nowhere. Because we’re not going to get, for you, talent-wise what we would want. So let’s figure this thing out.”
They did figure it out. Popovich and Aldridge talked fit and offensive style, with the coach coming to the realization he needed to adapt, too. The result is Aldridge having an All-NBA level season.
But you think because Kawhi Leonard — a more talented player entering his prime — is not on the sidelines for the playoffs Popovich and R.C. Buford are going to trade him?
Things are not good right now between Leonard and the Spurs, there is no communication going on and there is a standoff. Leonard is with his people working out in New York, the Spurs are trying to win a game against the Warriors in the playoffs. However, trading Leonard is another level. The Spurs aren’t there yet, as Marc Stein of the New York Times reported in his weekly newsletter.
One well-placed insider who has closely monitored this situation told me recently that the Spurs continue to give off signals behind the scenes that they won’t trade Leonard.
Will the Spurs get there?
Yes, Popovich sat down with Aldridge last summer and hashed things out, but this case feels different, as Tim Bontemps points out at the Washington Post.
The most important difference, though, is that Popovich met with Aldridge and was able to hash out everything last summer, laying the foundation for a bounceback all-star season. There is a reason that Popovich repeatedly refers to Leonard as “Leonard and his group,” a reference to a group now led by agent Mitch Frankel and Leonard’s uncle, Dennis Robertson.
It is unclear if Leonard and Popovich can even have that same kind of meeting, or if things between Leonard’s camp and the Spurs have grown so fractious that it’s past that point. Even if Leonard and Popovich can have such a meeting, could it create the same result?
Without that happening, it seems impossible to think this ends any other way than with Leonard being traded this summer. Just like Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins before him, the supermax has become a zero-sum game for teams. If they are willing to offer it to a player, they do, and the player signs it (see: James Harden and John Wall). If they are not, they don’t, and the player gets traded (see: Butler and Cousins).
That is the ultimate test in this case, the designated player max extension — which would ultimately lock Leonard in for six years at around a total of $219 million.
Come July 1 (or soon after), do the Spurs feel confident enough in their relationship with Leonard and the health of his quadriceps tendon to put the offer on the table? If so, he will sign it.
If not, then a trade becomes a legitimate discussion. And there are 29 teams that would be interested — the Spurs would get a quality package of players/picks in return.
But the Spurs are not there yet.