Kawhi Leonard is eligible for the super max this summer. Should the San Antonio Spurs offer it, there is no way he turns down over $200 million of guaranteed money (or there shouldn’t be). Leonard can only get offered that contract by the Spurs, and he would be stuck in San Antonio for the next 12 months.
It has been a turbulent 12 months for Kawhi and the Spurs. The inside story of the chaos was beautifully chronicled by Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright here. Disagreement over Leonard’s injury has led to a fractured relationship between the small forward and the franchise, including some less than positive comments from his teammates.
Leonard spent much of last season away from the organisation, often in New York. He had been the perfect, low-management superstar, but the disarray this injury has caused in San Antonio leaves his future uncertain.
What happens with Kawhi is huge for the rest of the NBA this offseason. He’s a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP and one of the best two-way players in the league. Other stars, such as LeBron James and Paul George, will be very interested in the Kawhi saga this summer. It would be silly if they weren’t.
The Spurs should, and will, look to trade Kawhi if they decide not to offer the super max or – more bizarrely – he turns it down. It may only be a rental, but that trade could be the trigger for the building of a super team.
The Spurs should, and will, look to trade Kawhi if they decide not to offer the super max or – more bizarrely – he turns it down.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the obvious trade partners in that eventuality. Leonard was born in LA, and the Lakers are determined to acquire at least two superstars this summer. PG13, also keen to return home, and LeBron, have been relentlessly linked with moves to Staples Centre. Getting all three is very challenging, though not impossible, as outlined in this superb piece by Kevin Pelton.
Even if George or LeBron opt to sign elsewhere, the potential for Leonard to join the Lakers makes them a more realistic contender for next year, thus increasing their chance of signing the remaining star.
There are 28 other teams in the league who might just be interested in trading for a two-time All-NBA superstar. The Philadelphia 76ers have been mentioned, of course, as one of the few teams with substantial cap room who could compete next year. Leonard would be a great fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but the Sixers would probably prefer a free agent signing that allowed them to retain their other assets, such as Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz.
If Leonard is available for trade, every team, with the exception of Golden State, will surely be open to whatever trade gymnastics it takes to get a deal done. If he and his entourage manage to patch things up with San Antonio, the NBA offseason will be a lot simpler for everyone involved.
Maybe, just maybe, the Spurs find a way – as they so often do – and retain Leonard along with signing one of the marquee free agents.