Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs appear to be on the verge of a breakup. He played in just nine games this year and was a shell of his former self in those games. He is also due for an enormous raise as he is eligible for a supermax contract. The seemingly irreconcilable differences with the organization, his questionable health, pending free agency, and the need for the Spurs to construct a younger and more athletic roster; trading Kawhi could be the best outcome for both parties. It might not be the likeliest scenario, as perennial MVP candidates in their primes are not typically traded, but below are four trade packages for Kawhi.
Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers receive: Leonard
Spurs receive: Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma
The Lakers want superstars. The easiest way to get one is via trade. Then with one super star on your roster, another player will follow in free agency. Enter Kawhi Leonard. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma should be enough to pry Kawhi from the Spurs. Ingram is 20 years old, 6’9″ with a 7 ft wingspan, the handles of a point guard, and the ability to score inside and out. He averaged 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game while shooting 39% from three in just his second season. His potential on both ends of the floor is limitless. Kuzma is a 22 year-old rookie, also 6’9″, and showed flashes of being a matchup nightmare because of how well he can stretch the floor. He averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Both of these guys are on rookie contracts for 2-3 more years, which bodes well for the cap savvy Spurs. Imagine a lineup of Dejounte Murray, Danny Green, Brandon Ingram, Kuzma, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Scary.
Sixers receive: Leonard
Spurs receive: Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Sixers 2018 first round pick
The Sixers might make it to the NBA Finals this year. They are that good. That being said, they would jump at the opportunity to form a “Big Three” of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs would demand Dario Saric in any trade involving Kawhi. Saric is no Simmons, but his talents are better utilized with the ball in his hands. At 6’10” he is a capable passer, good rebounder, and a deadly three-point shooter. He would flourish in a Popovich-led offense. Markelle Fultz has the talent to be a tremendous player, but he ran into some well-documented issues during the season that derailed his development. Only a year removed from being the consensus #1 overall pick, he is worth the risk for the Spurs.
Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers receive: Leonard
Spurs receive: Clippers 2018 first round pick, Pistons 2018 first round pick, Tobias Harris
The Clippers came out and said if Kawhi is available, they want him, and they have the assets to get him. The Clippers would have to part with both of their first-round picks in the 2018 draft. They are both in the lottery, but have the worst odds of getting the first overall pick. The Spurs have a long tradition of success in the draft. Very rarely do they draft a player in the first round busts. The Clips would also have to send Tobias Harris to San Antonio. Harris is a proven scorer in the NBA and would be an upgrade over Rudy Gay and the ageless Manu Ginobili. Plus, he would take some of the scoring burden off of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Suns receive: Leonard
Spurs receive: Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender, Suns 2018 first round pick (likely #1 overall),
The Suns want to be good. They have been linked with LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, and most recently were in the mix to acquire Kyrie Irving before he became a Celtic. They did not pull the trigger for Kyrie because they were apprehensive to part ways with Josh Jackson. To get Leonard they would need to give up Jackson. For the Spurs, Jackson would serve as Kawhi 2.0. He is no where near as gifted offensively, but he could develop into a consistent player on that end. His calling card is defense, and its spectacular. He can guard positions 1 through 4 with ease and was a great help-defender as a rookie. What the Spurs should covet the most is the Suns’ 2018 draft pick. It has the highest odds of winning the draft lottery and selecting first. Imagine a Spurs team with Luka Doncic, Josh Jackson and LaMarcus Aldridge. That team is scary. The Suns could throw in former third overall pick, Dragan Bender, as a project for Pop. It would be a lot for the Suns to give up, but pairing Kawhi with Devin Booker is tantalizing.
If the Spurs decide to trade Kawhi, they will never get equal value in return unless they acquire another top five player in the league. That will not happen. There best bet is to go after young controllable assets and draft picks, and to build completely around Aldridge.