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

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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.

Markelle Fultz tweaked his jump shot and it’s causing concern

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The Sixers had an open scrimmage over the weekend, and one of the big storylines was that Ben Simmons looked dominant (and while Joel Embiid danced around the court he did not play).

But watch the video and you notice something else — Jerryd Bayless and other Sixers defenders played off No. 1 pick, Markelle Fultz. I mean way off. As in “I dare you to shoot that jumper” off. Fultz shot 41.3 percent from three in college, he should be a threat from the NBA arc, at least enough for defenders to respect him out there. So why is Fultz getting the Rajon Rondo/Tony Allen treatment from teammates?

Fultz tweaked his jump shot and free throw stroke over the summer and it has raised some concerns. Brett Brown said he was not comfortable with it, as reported by David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“No (he’s not comfortable with it), and so we’re gonna get back on track. His heart is in the right place. All by himself, he pivoted out over the summer and tried to make it better and tweak it, and he’s in a place right now where we’re gonna try to remind him where his shot was and try to bring that back into probably more a tighter shot, bring his release point down a little bit, bring the ball closer to his body. We have a Team Markelle all around him to help him, and he’s gonna be just fine.”

Fultz seems to have worked on a quicker release from a higher release point, but it’s not where it needs to be yet.

It’s a concern because when Fultz and Simmons share the court Fultz will work primarily off the ball, and he will need to show he’s a good spot-up shooter. This is from Brown again, talking to Jessica Camerato at NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“His percentages revealed that he’s a more-than-capable shooter,” Brown said. “I think right now him trying to figure out how to not overcomplicate things and maybe make over something that didn’t need to be made over as much as he might of thought is a challenge.”

Fultz also changed his free throw stroke.

Fultz is a 19-year-old rookie who is going to have ups and downs, and that includes with his shot. There will be streaks and slumps. There also is a lot of time to work on the weaknesses in his game — even the ones that are self-inflicted. I doubt this is a long-term problem, but it’s all something to watch.

 

Sixers deal for point guard they need with Markelle Fultz

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Jerryd Bayless was supposed to be the guy, the veteran stabilizing presence, but he broke his wrist. He played in three games.

T.J. McConnell was a surprise and a find, but he’s a backup at the point long term, not the answer.

Sergio Rodriguez threw great passes, but he was always a stopgap.

Philadelphia headed into this offseason unsettled long-term at the point. There has been talk of chasing Kyle Lowry or some other free agent veteran point guard to settle the young team down, but those again were not the long-term answer.

Markelle Fultz is that answer.

By trading for the No. 1 pick in this draft, sending the Boston Celtics the No. 3 this year than either the Lakers No. 1 next year (if it falls in picks 2-5) or the Kings pick in 2019, the Sixers get a potentially great young point guard, a versatile one who fits what they are trying to build.

Fultz, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons — that could be the Sixers big three.

Fultz should bring the ability to organize the offense consistently that Philly lacked last season (with Bayless out injured). They needed someone to set the table, and Fultz can do that.

But Fultz can do so much more.

Fultz is a versatile point guard for the modern game. He can shoot (41.3 percent from three last season), can score from the midrange or attack the rim, he’s a strong playmaker in transition or the halfcourt, and he’s a good floor general. There’s very little he can’t do on offense, and defensively he has potential.

Brett Brown can use Fultz off the ball if Simmons is running the point, or he can trust Fultz to run the show. They could form the kind of dangerous pick-nd-roll play with two ball handlers who can shoot we have seen from Cleveland with the Kyrie Irving/LeBron James 1/3 pick-and-roll. Plus both Fultz and Simmons are good passers who can feed Embiid.

Philly’s potential new big three also are all on basically the same career arc.

We don’t know how this move will ultimately play out, or if these three can mesh with the Sixers. Can they stay healthy enough to find out?

However, right now, this is a strong move by Philly — there comes a time to cash in some of those treasure trove of picks and get the guys you want. Bryan Colangelo did that here. I’ve had my concerns about how the new Sixers GM would mess up “the process” but this is not that. This is getting a potentially great young player that fits what the Sixers are building. This is a strong move.

Despite Paul George ejection, Pacers beat 76ers 120-111 to close in on playoff spot

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Paul George scored 17 of his 27 points in the opening quarter and the Indiana Pacers inched closer to clinching a berth in the NBA playoffs with a 120-111 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.

Thaddeus Young added 20 points, Myles Turner scored 18 and Kevin Seraphin had 17 to give the Pacers (41-40) their fourth straight victory and push them one win away from guaranteeing a playoff spot for the sixth time in the past seven years.

The 76ers (28-53) lost for the seventh straight time and finished with a home record of 17-24. They conclude their fifth straight season out of the playoffs Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot paced the Sixers with 24 points and Richaun Holmes had 17 points.

The Pacers ran out to a 16-4 lead and built a 21-point lead with 1:55 to play in the first quarter. George had nearly half Indiana’s 35 points.

The Sixers used a 14-2 run late in the second quarter, including an alley-oop dunk by Holmes and a 3-pointer from Luwawu-Cabarrot, to draw within seven points.

That was as close as Philadelphia would get until 3:36 remained in the fourth quarter, when a 3-pointer by Alex Poythress cut it to 111-104. The Pacers then ran off five of the next six points to regain control.

The Pacers shot 61.4 percent to the Sixers’ 45.2 percent to carry a 64-54 lead into the half. Overall, the Pacers shot 56.7 percent to the Sixers’ 46.7 percent.

George finished the first half with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Guard Aaron Brooks left the game in the first half with a sore right knee and did not return. He played 7 minutes, making a 3-pointer. … Guard/forward Glenn Robinson III (left calf strain) sat out his ninth straight game. Veteran center Al Jefferson (sprained left ankle) missed his seventh in a row. Jefferson was in uniform and on the bench and is expected to be back in the rotation for the playoffs.

76ers: The Sixers will end the season with six players on the injured list: Joel Embiid (left knee surgery), Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness), Ben Simmons (acute fracture, right foot), Sergio Rodriguez (left hamstring strain), Robert Covington (right knee injury) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist surgery).

DRAWING A CROWD

The Sixers saw a sizeable bump in attendance this season. Heading into their home finale they were averaging 17,398 fans at the Wells Fargo Center, about 2,500 more than last season. “They’ve cheered for us throughout some of the toughest circumstances, just kept us going, kept us fighting,” Holmes said.

WHERE HE STARTED

Young was selected by Philadelphia with the 12th overall pick of the 2007 NBA draft and played seven seasons with the Sixers, appearing in 516 games and averaging 13.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in 30.1 minutes per game.

 

Sixers’ guard Jerryd Bayless out for season after wrist surgery

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Signing veteran guard Jerryd Bayless was one of Sixer GM Bryan Colangelo’s first significant moves of free agency. It showed the Sixers were committed to Ben Simmons at the point (Bayless is a combo guard). Also, this was a part of Colangelo’s push to bring in some experienced players that would help the young Sixers rack up a few wins and change the culture of the team.

However, Bayless has gotten on the court for just three games this season due to injury, and he’s not going to get on any more — the Sixers announced on Thursday Bayless had wrist surgery to repair a ligament and is done for the season.

“While it’s unfortunate Jerryd will miss the remainder of the season, we feel confident that today’s procedure will resolve his wrist injury and related discomfort,” Colangelo said in a statement. “Jerryd is to be credited with his committed and professional approach in making every effort to avoid this outcome.”

Bayless’ deal has two more seasons on it after this one, for a total of $17.5 million (with the salaries going down each year, something that makes it more tradable should Philadelphia want to go that route).

This doesn’t change anything with the Sixers’ rotations, Bayless wasn’t playing anyway.