Getty Images

Most likely Kawhi Leonard trade destinations: L.A., Philly, Boston, and…

32 Comments

Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. So much so that he’s willing to leave about $31 million on the table (the difference between the supermax the Spurs could offer and what any other team could after a trade). It took a while but the Spurs know now, and San Antonio will explore the trade market. They are not necessarily going to be in a rush to do it, either. This is a pateint organization, the idea of Leonard starting next season as a Spur is certainly not out of the question.

Despite that, you can be sure 29 teams are lined up to try to trade for him — when healthy Leonard is a top-five NBA player, an MVP candidate who is a force on both ends of the floor, and already a Finals MVP.

However, with just one year left on his current contract, Leonard has leverage in this situation — if a team can’t re-sign him then he’s just a one-year rental, and teams aren’t going to want to pay the steep trade price to land him. Leonard’s camp will let teams know if they have a shot at re-signing him, and most will not. A couple of teams might be willing to roll the dice anyway (as Oklahoma City did with Paul George) betting they can win him over with a year to recruit him in house. But by and large, Leonard will have some say on where he lands.

Here are the teams at the top of the list to watch.

 
Lakers small icon The Los Angeles Lakers. This is where Leonard wants to go. While Leonard’s frustrations with the Spurs grew over the handling of his injury and his seeking a second opinion, his uncle/advisor had been in Kawhi’s ear about getting to a place like Los Angeles. There are none in the NBA bigger than the Lakers. Leonard and his camp were disappointed with the money offered in recent negotiations with the Jordan shoe brand (reportedly in the $4 million to $5 million range) and think a move to a larger market and bigger brand team changes the endorsement equation. (Not as much as Leonard thinks, he doesn’t do social media or go on Fallon/Kimmel, or all the other stuff that guys like Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard have done to create a brand despite market size. Kawhi has to play the game to get that cash.)

This is the trade everyone will talk about. It can get done financially with the Lakers sending Luol Deng‘s bloated contract, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma (and maybe the No. 25 pick in Thursday’s draft). However, the Spurs don’t really want Ball and the circus that follows him, according to sources. It’s expected the Spurs would ask for Brandon Ingram and Kuzma as the young Lakers coming back, and the Spurs likely would have to throw in Bryn Forbes just to balance the books. Either way, it may require a third team to get the job done, the Spurs will not just want to take on bad contracts.

It’s a good deal for the Spurs. If the Lakers get desperate, would they try to throw in Ball too? That likely requires a third team (at least), but the Lakers should go all in — get Leonard in a trade and it’s far more likely the Lakers get LeBron James in free agency.

Another question to ponder: Will the Spurs willingly trade Leonard to Western Conference rival with the resources of the Lakers? Don’t bet on it, especially if the Celtics, Sixers, or others come in with strong offers. The Spurs want the best offer, they don’t care if Leonard chooses to take even less money to go to LA as a free agent in 2019 (the max from another team would be $139 over four years, another massive hit to the guaranteed money pocketbook). Popovich is not inclined to help the Lakers, they will have to beat the competition with the best offer.

The Spurs will listen and be interested in what the Lakers have to say. But there could be better offers from…

 
Celtics small icon The Boston Celtics. It had been reported the Celtics tried to make a trade offer for Leonard at the last trade deadline but were rebuffed (the Spurs have turned away all calls up to this point). For a rebuilding Spurs team, this could be the cleanest choice.

Boston could offer Jaylen Brown (although the Spurs may demand Jayson Tatum), this year’s No. 27 pick, next year’s Sacramento Kings pick (which is only No. 1 protected, and that team is still going to be young and bad), plus another future first rounder. The Celtics have a lot of picks they can send.

Or, Boston could offer Kyrie Irving and a first-round pick. This lineup works for Boston: Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Tatum, Brown, and Al Horford. The question with that offer for San Antonio is could it re-sign Irving, a free agent in 2019? Would the Spurs rather have Brown and all the picks? Also, Boston could, in theory, offer Gordon Hayward and a pick (although that one is far less likely to be put out there).

The Celtics don’t necessarily have to be convinced they could re-sign Leonard to roll the dice on a trade — this is a franchise, a coach, and a passionate city of hoops fans who would be willing to bet they could win him over. Danny Ainge doesn’t fear a good gamble, and this would be one — with Leonard and their other stars getting healthy the Celtics become a threat to Golden State (as much as any team is).

 
Sixers small icon The Philadelphia 76ers. Another team on the rise in the East, a team with max cap space so they would have some flexibility still, and this is a team that Leonard has been linked to in the past. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid taking steps forward (and staying healthy *knocks on wood*) Leonard pushes this team firmly into contender status.

The trade would likely be Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and the No. 10 pick in this draft (the Lakers’ pick). Or, it could be Dario Saric, Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and the No. 10 pick. How tempting that would be to the Spurs depends on what they think of Fultz, his health, and his shot, as well as who they can draft at No. 10. It’s a good deal, and the Sixers could throw more picks to tempt the Spurs. However, is this offer better than what the Lakers or Celtics can put on the board?

 
Clippers small icon The Los Angeles Clippers. If Leonard really wants to be in Los Angeles, this is the other option (and being the face this team did a lot for Chris Paul‘s brand and endorsements, State Farm has paid him a mint).

The offer would not be quite as enticing as what the Lakers can put on the table but it’s interesting: Tobias Harris, Sam Decker and this year’s 12th or 13th pick. Or both but without Decker. That would send the Spurs a decent package, however, it’s all nice role players and not a star (it’s unlikely they draft one that late in the lottery, possible but not likely). Still, the Clippers will try to get in the mix, and they would stand a chance to keep him because of the city (especially if they pay this summer to keep DeAndre Jordan).

 
Knicks small icon The New York Knicks. Another team on this list because it’s a large market that Leonard has been linked to. Reportedly people around him like this idea, but it’s hard to see it working out. It’s also not known for sure if the Knicks could win over Leonard to re-sign, promising him a healthy Kristaps Porzingis. Eventually.

A trade of Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and this years No. 9 pick will get the Spurs to at least listen. (The Spurs are not taking on Joakim Noah or Enes Kanter‘s contracts, the Knicks are stuck with those.) Just hard to see that being enough, considering who they are up against.

 
Heat small icon Miami Heat. Another team whose name comes up — like Sacramento, which would love to get in the sweepstakes — where it seems unlikely they could re-sign Leonard so how much do they really want to offer? There are a few teams in this circumstance.

For the Heat, they could offer Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo
in a trade for Leonard and Patty Mills.

Maybe the Spurs have a little interest in the young players, but it’s likely not enough. Also, how much better does this make the Heat in the short term, and if they are just fighting to make the playoffs in the East is that going to entice Leonard to stay?

If and when the Spurs decide to trade Leonard — they are in no rush, this could drag out through the summer — they are going to get closer to market value for a superstar than most teams get. Much closer than the Kings did with DeMarcus Cousins, for example. There are a few teams that can make quality offers, and the Spurs will choose the best one — they don’t care where Leonard lands. Leonard’s leverage is where he will re-sign, but a team that trades for him can offer $49 million more and one more guaranteed year, that’s a lot of cabbage — not enough to keep Leonard in a place he doesn’t like or want to be, but if the team is winning and the experience is good… anything can happen.

This summer is going to be wild.

Report: Kawhi Leonard leaked desire to leave Spurs to media before informing team

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
6 Comments

Enough stars – Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Gordon Hayward – have changed teams in the last couple years to know how this goes. People say they don’t care so much whether a player leaves. They claim to care more how a player leaves. (Even though nobody ever finds a player’s exit tact good enough.)

How is Kawhi Leonardwho reportedly wants to leave the Spurs – doing on that front?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

There are two possibilities here:

1. Leonard leaked his desire to leave the Spurs before informing them and is throwing around words like “betrayal” to make them look bad.

2. Leonard already told the organization, and San Antonio is denying it to make him look bad.

Either would show the high level of acrimony here.

Celtics’ Marcus Smart: ‘I’m worth more than $12-14 million’

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
6 Comments

The Celtics and Marcus Smart didn’t agree to a contract extension last offseason, which was unsurprising. Smart was a difficult player to evaluate. He defended all three perimeter positions well, hustled all over the court, looked OK as a distributor and struggled mightily as a shooter, particularly beyond the arc. Why not take another season to evaluate him rather than lock in then?

Well, a year later, Smart still defends all three perimeter positions well, hustles all over the court, looks OK as a distributor and struggles mightily as a shooter, particularly beyond the arc.

How much is Smart worth?

He answers that difficult question entering restricted free agency.

Smart, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN

“To be honest, I’m worth more than 12-14 million,” Smart told ESPN. “Just for the things I do on the court that don’t show up on the stat sheet. You don’t find guys like that. I always leave everything on the court, every game. Tell me how many other players can say that.”

Smart’s contributions exceed traditional box scores, but that salary seems high.

Take the NBA’s 29 other teams. Eliminate those without $14 million in cap space, which will be most of them. Eliminate those that don’t believe they can scheme around Smart’s shaky shooting, a major deficiency in the modern NBA. Eliminate those that don’t want to waste time with an offer sheet Boston might match, anyway.

Do any teams remain?

It takes only one, and maybe Smart can find that team. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

He can also negotiate directly with the Celtics, but they have leverage. They already have Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier (who’ll be extension-eligible) at point guard. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward should see plenty of time together in versatile lineups, which would reduce the need for Smart at shooting guard.

Boston also has significant financial motivation to keep Smart’s salary low, as it could easily push the team into the luxury tax.

Smart’s qualifying offer will be $6,053,719. As long as his perception of his own worth remains so high, that might be the number to keep an eye on.

Report: Celtics offered monster trade package for Justise Winslow to Pistons and Heat, not just Hornets

AP Photo/Winslow Townson
7 Comments

The Celtics are in great shape. They’re up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals with a young rotation. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are all stepping up. Al Horford is reminding everyone he’s a star, and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will get the chance next year.

The Hornets are in terrible shape. They missed the playoffs for the second straight season, and they’re so capped out, they’re already facing a luxury-tax crunch for next season. Even with Kemba Walker, they appear stuck in mediocrity.

But both teams could have been in a middle ground if Charlotte accepted Boston’s draft-night offer in 2015.

Wanting to get Justise Winslow, the Celtics reportedly offered six picks – including four potential first-rounders – for the No. 9 pick. The Hornets rejected the deal and took Frank Kaminsky, which has earned them plenty of criticism ever since.

But maybe we should save some admonishment for the Pistons (who drafted Stanley Johnson No. 8) and Heat (who drafted Winslow No. 10). Apparently, they also received Boston’s walloping offer.

Bill Simmons of The Ringer on The Lowe Post podcast:

I know the Pistons passed on it. Whatever it was eight, nine, 10. It was Pistons passed. They offered the same thing. They wouldn’t even talk about it, because they wanted to take Stanley Johnson.

The ninth pick was Charlotte. Jordan couldn’t figure it out in time and finally didn’t do it, so they passed on those four picks, one of which would have been Jaylen Brown. Another one would have been Rozier.

And then the 10th pick, they called Riley, and Riley just laughed and hung up on them. Riley was like, “No, I’m taking Justise Winslow. I’ll talk to you guys later.”

It hasn’t been revealed precisely which picks the Celtics offered. They had many stockpiled. A good bet is it including the No. 16 pick in 2015, which they used on Terry Rozier. I’m not sure whether Simmons is reporting or just supposing Boston offered the 2016 Nets pick (which became Jaylen Brown).

There’s enough variability in the picks and protections not to know just how good this offer was. But, even near the plausible minimum, it was pretty darn good.

To some degree, it’s just logical that if the Celtics wanted Winslow that badly, they would have made the same offer to every team in that range. But Danny Ainge admitted after the draft he might have gotten carried away. It seemed possible he didn’t go that far with Detroit on the clock and came to his senses with Miami picking. Alas.

The Pistons, Hornets and Heat are all locked into expensive rosters with merely moderate upsides. Stanley Johnson, Frank Kaminsky and even Justise Winslow – the Celtics’ dream selection – top out at fine. Detroit, Charlotte and Miami almost certainly would have been better off accepting this trade.

Boston was fortunate none did.

For a while, the Pistons and Heat were fortunate attention was placed squarely on the Hornets passing on the offer. That ought to change.

Brad Stevens, Dwane Casey, Quin Snyder finalists for Coach of the Year

3 Comments

Fear not, Brad Stevens zealots.

Unlike the NBA’s 30 coaches (who submitted only one name each), some of the the 100-ish voting media members (who had three ranked spots on each of their ballots) chose Stevens as their Coach of the Year.

The Celtics coach is one of three finalists for the more-prestigious award:

  • Brad Stevens (Celtics)
  • Dwane Casey (Raptors)
  • Quin Snyder (Jazz)

The Raptors, of course, fired Casey after they stumbled in the playoffs yet again. But Casey did a fantastic job in the regular season – guiding Toronto to a franchise-record 59 wins, revamping the offense and empowering the bench. His peers gave him their version of this award. If Casey wins the more-official Coach of the Year on June 25 while unemployed or working elsewhere, it could make for an awkward moment.

Stevens is also a strong contender for the award. He did an excellent job keeping the injury-riddled Celtics humming. Keeping it up deep into the playoffs is even more impressive, but this is a regular-season award.

Snyder did a tremendous job keeping Utah humming after Gordon Hayward left, the team started slow and Rudy Gobert got hurt. Many teams would have thrown in the towel. The Jazz rallied to make the playoffs, with Snyder’s smart X-and-O work helping the cause.

There are many tough cuts here – Mike D’Antoni (Rockets), Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Doc Rivers (Clippers), Nate McMillan (Pacers), Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers), Brett Brown (76ers). It was a crowded race, and assessing coaching – especially from the outside – is difficult. The only wrong choice is insisting one of the omitted coaches was unquestionably better than Stevens, Casey or Snyder.