We know the Lakers are coming hard — if they can swing a Leonard trade in the next week they are almost assured of landing LeBron James in free agency. (As an aside, don’t buy the rumor that Leonard doesn’t want to play with LeBron, sources told me that is not the case.) The 76ers are trying to get in on the Leonard sweepstakes, too, although it’s fair to ask if their offer (centered around Markelle Fultz or Dario Saric and picks) will get much traction.
Who the Spurs want to get deeply involved with is the Boston Celtics. Boston has the combination of good young players (Jaylen Brown, for example) and picks (Boston could have four first rounders in 2019) that interests the Spurs more than Brandon Ingram an anything the Lakers can push into the pot.
Boston, however, is slow playing it. They are not all in yet, according to multiple reports. That starts with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.
I had heard before Jayson Tatum is not available for a Leonard trade. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald confirmed that and reports that Boston wants medical reports and to talk to Leonard before they get serious.
As noted in a recent Herald story, the Celts would need assurances that Leonard’s quadriceps injury is healed and that he would be willing to stay with the team beyond next year. Leonard can opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season. He played in just nine games this season because of the quad problem, and questions about whether he could and should have played more strained his relationship with the Spurs…
It’s not believed the Celts are willing to move either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, and whether they’d put the 2019 Sacramento first round pick (protected only if it’s No. 1 overall) on the table likely is dependent on the sides getting serious enough to allow the C’s permission to speak with Leonard, gauge his interest in Boston and check his medical information.
Brown and that Kings’ pick is what the Spurs are reportedly most interested in. So if the young studs are off the table, what exactly is Boston looking to trade. Meet Kyrie Irving, reports Jake Fischer at Sports Illustrated.
San Antonio has informed teams its preferred target in any Leonard trade is the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, sources say. Teams have noted this is likely a negotiating tactic, and it’s widely believed in league circles Boston is more likely to propose a deal centered around Kyrie Irving and future picks. But based on previous behavior, the Celtics are unlikely to overpay for Leonard.
It’s hard to picture the Spurs — who are doing some serious rebuilding if/when they trade Leonard — taking on Kyrie Irving, who will be a free agent in 2019.
The Spurs have to be careful with the timing of their moves. On the one hand, they would be happy to drag this out for a while, see if they can get more teams involved, and if that makes life difficult for the Lakers then that’s a nice bonus. However, wait too long and have Boston pull out of the running altogether, and suddenly they lose leverage. If the Spurs can pressure the Lakers to going all in on this (likely with a third team to absorb Luol Deng‘s contract, hello Atlanta), that may get it done. It depends on the signals Boston sends.
There are so many moving parts, all of this could still go just about any direction.