Last year, the Kawhi Leonard saga was one of the weirdest storylines in the NBA. He was injured, then he was back, then he was out again, and rumors were brewing all season long that he and head coach Gregg Popovich weren’t getting along. In the end, Kawhi only played in nine total games, and there is ample speculation as to how much of his missed time was actually due to injury.
Kawhi became a full fledged superstar in the two seasons prior to last. He finished the 2015-16 season second in MVP voting, and then finished third in 2016-17, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in both seasons. He’s a top five player in the league right now, and probably as good as it gets when it comes to playing both offense and defense.
Kawhi would become a free agent in 2019, but if he re-signed with the Spurs, he’d be eligible for a supermax deal – since he was drafted by the Spurs and meets various other performance based criteria, the Spurs would be able to offer him $70 million more than any other team in free agency. Kawhi, however, looks content with leaving that money on the table because he feels a sense of betrayal from the team. There’s still a chance that Popovich and the Spurs are able to mend their relationship with Kawhi, and he hasn’t yet demanded a trade, but the writing is on the wall in San Antonio.
Where would Kawhi go? He’s expressed interest to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, and says he would rather play as a Laker than as a Clipper. The Lakers have a plethora of young talent and a (late) 1st round draft pick to offer the Spurs. They’d likely have to part ways with at least one of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram, if not two. If they can get a deal done to bring Kawhi to town however, it will be all that much easier to attract free agent LeBron James.
The Cleveland Cavalier are another team who can make a desperation move for Kawhi, and similar to the Lakers, they’d be doing it to make LeBron James happy. LeBron is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency but Kawhi Leonard just might be worth sticking around for. The two went at each other head-to-head in the Finals in back-to-back years in 2013 and 2014. LeBron won Finals MVP in 2013 and then Kawhi won it when the Spurs got their revenge. Facing both of them on the same team would be a nightmare.
Another team linked with Kawhi is the Boston Celtics. With Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward, they have enough talented youth to make every other NBA team feel inadequate. They can put together an enticing package for Kawhi and not lose much sleep over it. They are already the favorites in the East after their impressive 2018 playoff run sans Irving and Hayward, but if they added Kawhi Leonard, a two-time DPOY and Finals MVP winner, we’d be talking about the Celtics right up there with the Golden State Warriors.
All of this is speculative at the moment, but the second Kawhi becomes available, every team will be putting a package together and the Spurs will have a lot to consider.