The Los Angeles Clippers are third in the Western Conference at 31-17 this season. They are looking like a championship contender but could this be their final NBA season of being near the top for the foreseeable future?
Los Angeles put themselves in position to win when they added both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This immediately created one of the best duos in the league and made the Clippers a threat. The duo could quickly breakup if Leonard decides to shake things up a bit and test his value.
Leonard signed a three-year deal worth $103.1 million with the Clippers. He still has one year left on his deal but could opt out and become a free agent in the offseason. It is hard to imagine that he would do this, especially after helping a great deal to get Paul George to town, but anything is possible.
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At 29 years old, Leonard is averaging 26 points per game and continues to be one of the best players in the league. There will be no shortage of suitors
Leonard could be leaning towards opting out for business reasons. If he reaches the open market, it is obvious that many teams will be involved. Here are three teams that could be heavily involved if Leonard decides to opt out.
Which teams could afford Kawhi Leonard if he surprisingly leaves the Clippers
Kawhi Leonard is probably staying with the Los Angeles Clippers, but it's notable that the "probably" qualifier is now necessary. There was seemingly no chance that he'd leave the team he maneuvered so desperately to reach for most of the season, but slight rumblings stemming from a recent Marc Stein newsletter and later appearance on Greenroom have sent the message that, even if his return to Los Angeles is still by far the likeliest outcome, there are "teams that no longer make the blanket assumption that Kawhi will stay with the Clippers and plan to pursue him if they get the chance."
There's a chance that sentiment is just misplaced optimism. It might also come down to Leonard's notoriously quiet nature keeping the Clippers in the dark. He moved Heaven and Earth to get to Los Angeles. The assumption, until he gives us reason to believe otherwise, should be that he plans to stay there. But on the off chance that he doesn't, it's worth checking in on which teams might actually have the resources to pursue him.
The Mavericks, Heat and Knicks are all reportedly interested in Leonard if he considers teams besides the Clippers. They all, notably, have cap space. In all likelihood, any team hoping to add Leonard will need it. For a multitude of reasons, it appears unlikely that the Clippers would cooperate on a sign-and-trade that would get Leonard to a preferred destination. They have so few long-term assets that dealing him for things that would help with a rebuild would be practically pointless. Their only hope of sustained contention lies with Leonard.
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So realistically, teams in pursuit of Leonard are going to need the cap space to sign him outright. That's not going to be easy. His maximum salary as a 10-year veteran is over $39.3 million, and before you suggest teams might be afraid to pay it given his injury history, remember, Kevin Durant got the max in 2019 with a torn Achilles. Those are far more dangerous than any injury Leonard has ever suffered. So let's take a look at the teams that have been linked to him in the past and whether or not they could feasibly create the space that they would need to sign him, should the (very unlikely) opportunity arise.
New York Knicks
The question for the Knicks isn't whether or not they can afford Leonard. They can create roughly $50 million in space by renouncing their own free agents, more than any other team in the NBA. The real question is how they can use the rest of their space to potentially entice Leonard into signing in New York. If Leonard is filling a max slot, the Knicks won't have the space to sign another high-level player in free agency, but they could still weaponize what was left to put a deeper roster around him.
They could, for example, use some of that space to retain key players from last year's team. For example, Nerlens Noel ($6 million) and Reggie Bullock ($5.5 million) have fairly small cap holds. The Knicks could keep them on the books, sign Leonard, and then re-sign both to multi-year deals afterward. If Leonard had his heart set on playing with Derrick Rose, the Knicks could keep him and his $10 million cap hold instead. If there are other outside role players he'd like the Knicks to chase, including former teammate in San Antonio and Toronto Danny Green, that could be an option for them as well.
They wouldn't have the remaining cap space to sign an expensive free agent outright but they could pursue one through a sign-and-trade using some of their own remaining salary. Let's say Leonard wanted to reunite with Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry. The Knicks could negotiate a sign-and-trade with Toronto that would send some of their existing contracts, including Obi Toppin ($5.8 million), Kevin Knox ($5.1 million) or even young center Mitchell Robinson ($1.8 million on a team option) to either the Raptors or a third party to open up the space necessary to fit him in. This is a significantly more complicated procedure, but the basic point is that the Knicks have so much space that they can conceivably pair Leonard with almost any 2021 free agents they want to.
There just aren't any other superstars in the 2021 free-agent class to truly entice Leonard to New York. That, ultimately, would be their best bet. If they want to land Leonard, they're likely going to have to find him a suitable co-star through a trade. No obvious candidates exist if Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal aren't available, but Paul George wasn't available in 2019 either. Leonard's recruiting changed that. If he wants a new partnership in New York, odds are, he'll be able to find a running mate.
The first order of business for Dallas if they hope to get into the Leonard sweepstakes is to make sure that Josh Richardson isn't on the roster next season. His $11.6 million player option is their biggest obstacle to max cap space. If he declines that option, Dallas is starting with roughly $32 million in space, and it gets easier to shed the rest from there.
The $4.1 million owed to Willie Cauley-Stein is non-guaranteed, and Dallas won't hesitate to waive him if necessary. Trey Burke's $3.3 million is easily tradable as plenty of teams have either the cap space or a trade exception capable of absorbing it, but if necessary, they could also waive-and-stretch the remaining $6.7 million on his deal over the next five seasons to shed more than $1 million in space right now. The same could be said of 2020 first-round pick Josh Green. If Dallas had to move his $3 million salary, doing so wouldn't be a problem. Without Richardson, creating max cap space is fairly straightforward for Dallas.
If Richardson opts in? Then things get more complicated. The Mavericks would almost certainly have to trade a mid-tier salary in order to get to the max. Richardson, Dwight Powell ($11 million) and Maxi Kleber ($8.8 million) would all be candidates. All three are valuable rotation players, but that has never stopped teams from gouging desperate cap dumpers. If it took a first-round pick for Golden State to get off of Andre Iguodala in 2019, there's a good chance it would take a first-round pick for Dallas to get off of one of these salaries in 2021. That is somewhat problematic for the Mavericks considering the protections on the 2023 first-round pick they owe to the Knicks. At present, they can't trade another first-rounder until 2027 due to the Stepien Rule. If they want to trade an earlier pick, they would have to remove the protections on their 2023 selection. The Mavericks would likely have a low pick with Luka Doncic and a healthy Leonard leading them for the 2022-23 season, but Dallas isn't exactly asset-rich. Giving up a pick stings.
But if the Mavericks got a firm commitment from Leonard, creating the space wouldn't be an issue. It's doable without too much pain. The next two teams on this list would have a harder time here.
Dallas would have to work to create max cap space. The Heat literally can't get there as long as their two All-Stars remain on the team. Jimmy Butler will make $36 million next season. Bam Adebayo is owed $28.1 million. The Heat have $5.2 million in dead money after they stretched Ryan Anderson in 2019 to fit Butler under the hard cap. Even if you removed literally every player on the roster aside from Butler and Adebayo, the most cap space Miami can generate is roughly $33.8 million once 10 incomplete roster charges are factored in.
The Heat have known this would be the case for quite some time. Had they not extended Adebayo last offseason, they still would have been able to retain him as a restricted free agent, but his cap hold would have been $15.3 million before signing a new deal this offseason. Instead, his cap figure is almost $13 million higher at $28.1 million. That is the difference between having max space and not, as Leonard's $39.3 million max is around $5.5 million more room than the Heat can generate. I explained Miami's decision to willingly sacrifice cap space in order to re-sign Adebayo in-depth here, but this is the two-part short explanation for why they did it:
- Adebayo shares an agent, Alex Saratsis, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had not yet re-signed with the Bucks. Miami had planned to pursue him, so keeping his agent happy was seemingly a priority.
- Teams frequently ask their third-year stars to wait until restricted free agency to sign their second contract as a way to save cap space, and it often blows up in their faces. A really relevant example of that is Leonard himself. He was eligible for a contract extension after the 2014 championship, but the Spurs forced him to wait until 2015 because they wanted to save space for LaMarcus Aldridge. Leonard's relationship with the team deteriorated for other, publicly known reasons, but that decision easily could have been the inciting incident.
Of course, to an extent, this is irrelevant. The Heat are unlikely to clear every salary except for Butler and Adebayo off of their books. Right now, they're looking at around $21 million in space with contracts for Tyler Herro, Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala and Omer Yurtseven on their books and cap holds for Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn still in place as well. The Heat can create more room by pulling the qualifying offers on Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. This would lower their cap holds from $4.7 million down to $2.1 million and get them to roughly $27 million in space, but it would make those two unrestricted free agents rather than restricted ones. Miami could work around this by verbally agreeing to extensions with both early, but signing them last in order to maximize their low cap holds. Let's say they took the more realistic path of retaining Herro, but getting off of Achiuwa, Okpala and Yurtseven and renouncing all of their other free agents. That would leave the Heat with around $28.4 million in space to throw at Leonard.
That's not the max. It's significantly lower than the max, in fact, but if Leonard was desperate enough to get to Miami, there's a way the Heat could get closer over the long haul. Once a player has spent one year on a new team after signing there in free agency, they are eligible for a 20 percent raise on a new deal through Non-Bird Rights and a 75 percent raise through Early Bird Rights. If Leonard signed a one-year deal with a player option for a second season, he could position himself to jump from $28.4 million in the 2021-22 season to $34 million in the 2022-23 season through those Non-Bird Rights.
He could, at that point, sign a hefty four-year deal at a still considerable price, or he could jump up to $34 million, take another one-year deal, and then, through his Early Bird Rights, try to get up to the max afterward. There is definitely some risk in that plan if Leonard gets hurt again, but it is a feasible path he could take to something close to max money in Miami down the line. If he knows that he is going to sit all of next season out (which, to be clear, is no certainty), he could come to a wink-wink agreement with the Heat that they would give him a new deal starting at that $34 million figure in the 2022 offseason without having to risk re-injury on the floor before that.
Still, the Knicks and Mavericks have clear paths to the max. The Heat don't. That makes them significant underdogs if Leonard wants to find a new team.
No reports, to this point, have linked Leonard to the Raptors, but they're worth a brief look here considering their history. If nothing else, the two sides had a mutually satisfactory relationship in 2019, when Leonard led the team to the championship and the organization, in turn, kept him healthy after what was essentially a lost final season in San Antonio. There seemed to be trust between Leonard and Toronto's medical staff, a factor that shouldn't be overlooked. If Leonard wanted to remain with the Raptors, he likely would have done so in 2019, but on the slim chance he'd be open to a return now, we'll at least examine the finances.
In the bare bones scenario, the Raptors can get to just below $27 million in space. This would mean waiving all of their non-guaranteed players and renouncing most of their own free agents, including Lowry. They would only keep the four players currently under guaranteed contracts for next season: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Malachi Flynn, along with the No. 4 overall pick and the $2.1 million cap hold of Gary Trent Jr. (which could only get that low if Toronto pulled the qualifying offer and made him unrestricted, as Miami did with Robinson and Nunn in the scenario above). That isn't max space, but unlike the Heat, Toronto could feasibly get there through a trade. It would just be a painful one. Essentially, the Raptors can only get to max space by trading one of their three core veterans: Siakam, Anunoby and VanVleet.
That doesn't necessarily mean that they can't take any money back. Siakam is making max money himself, so the Raptors could conceivably trade him for a player making roughly half as much in order to create the room needed for Leonard. There would be far more interest in Anunoby and VanVleet, though. Perhaps the Raptors could swap one of them to one of the younger teams with space (the Knicks, Thunder, Spurs, Hornets or Grizzlies) in exchange for a valuable younger player on a rookie contract. Finding a deal wouldn't be hard. It would just make the Raptors less appealing.
That, aside from geography, is what makes a Raptors reunion so unlikely. Four of the key teammates that Leonard won the title with (Lowry, Green, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka) are already gone. If another joins them, he'd be signing with a completely different roster. The Raptors can create max space, but doing so with a roster Leonard would be interested in joining might be another matter.
Teams that could afford Leonard, but that he wouldn't consider playing for
I briefly mentioned the Spurs and the Thunder as possible partners in cap-clearing trades. Both make sense because both could easily get to max space if they wanted to. The Spurs can create nearly as much space as the Knicks, around $48 million. The Thunder are slightly below the max right now at roughly $38 million, but would only need to waive the non-guaranteed contract of Gabriel Deck to make up the difference.
The only problem here is that Leonard wouldn't consider joining these teams. Never say never in the modern NBA, but Leonard burying the hatchet with Gregg Popovich and returning to the Spurs would be among the least likely things that have ever happened in free agency. The Thunder will be appealing down the line, but right now, they are in the thick of a rebuild. Leonard wouldn't leave the Clippers for a non-contender in a small market.
Teams that Leonard might be interested in, but couldn't afford him
Since people are inevitably going to ask about these teams, let's just knock them out quickly:
Leonard could have signed with the Lakers for the max in 2019. That's no longer remotely the case. Even if they traded every player on their roster except for LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they'd still have below $22 million in cap space to offer. Realistically, the Lakers are using the taxpayer mid-level exception this season. If they splurge, it will be through a sign-and-trade for a non-max player.
The Nets and the Warriors are so deep into the tax that it's not even worth covering the steps it would take to create max space. In fact, both of them are more than a full max salary above the cap for next season. Brooklyn is around $44 million above the cap, and Golden State is even pricier with a roster that is currently $55 million above the cap. Both teams will make other moves this offseason that make their rosters more expensive. Even if there are Leonard sweepstakes, these teams aren't getting into them.
So, it’s over. The wait, that is. Kawhi Leonard is a Los Angeles Clipper for at least the next three years, though a fourth is a possibility (and, literally, an option). He’s $176.3 million richer, and, metaphorically, the Clippers are, too. The franchise’s future, never an immediate concern but certainly a cagey long-term situation given the unpredictability of Kawhi, is now locked in place. It’s different; it’s nice.
It’s also simultaneously expected and far from predictable. At least in terms of the contract’s length, it’s an indication that the Clippers had a considerable amount of leverage in negotiations with their star, or that Leonard simply had a legitimate interest in staying put in Los Angeles long-term, or both.
Going back to the idea of the unpredictability of Kawhi: although it felt like his return to the Clippers had been telegraphed since the offseason began — or sooner, like when he injured his ACL in the team’s second-round series against the Utah Jazz — you just… you never know. There was a time that, because of his demeanor and silence, people thought Kawhi would follow the Tim Duncan formula, therefore remaining a Spur for life. Instead, he’s played for two teams since, winning a championship with Toronto. And now he’s committed to at least three more years with the Clippers; ideally, they become the third team to reap the benefits of his services.
Odds are they won’t be able to this season — the aforementioned ACL injury will keep him out for much of, if not the entirety of the regular season. If he does return for the playoffs, there's always the chance that he’ll be held to a minutes restriction, or hold himself to one (that unpredictability doesn’t just evaporate all at once, you know). But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel now, and the tunnel is even longer than it seemed to be before.
What the Clippers have done by ensuring that they locked Leonard into a long-term deal, as opposed to the ever-popular deals that see stars sign for two years with an option in the second, is secure relative roster consistency for the better part of the 2020s. Most of those short-term deals invariably result in an offseason move or an in-season demand to move; there’s always been a concern, no matter the team, that Kawhi would be one to subscribe to that plan of attack.
It appears Leonard has bought into that idea, too, and that the Clippers were able to work out an attractive enough situation to get him to agree to this three (or four) year contract. It’s not as if a deal of this sort for a player coming off a serious injury is unheard of. Both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, players who have had some of the worst luck with the injury bug in recent memory, signed humongous deals with their teams directly on the heels of those injuries.
How negotiations likely went for the recently injured Leonard seems to be a similar story to that of his All-Star contemporaries. Neither the Warriors nor the Nets appeared interested in signing Durant or Thompson to short-term contracts; why bother paying your star for a year just for him not to play if they were to opt out come year two? The Clippers, it seems, took a similar approach, ensuring that at least two good years of Leonard were a guarantee. Teams would be smart to use these situations as benchmarks moving forward. What’s the point of giving a player leverage to skip town if one of two years is bound to be spent in street clothes, and year two is merely an audition for other suitors with max slots begging to be filled?
Leonard and the Clippers seem uninterested in leaving that door open, and their other offseason moves prove it. Lawrence Frank and Co. made running it back their offseason goal, with Kawhi as their obvious cornerstone, never mind the fact this his return took the longest to lock in. Serge Ibaka, who spent the better part of 2021 injured, opted into the second year of his contract. Nicolas Batum then re-signed, as did Reggie Jackson. The team then signed Justise Winslow, a nice sweetener who adds depth while Terance Mann handles starter’s minutes and Leonard sits on the bench, or up in a suite.
It’s rather clear that the front office saw last season’s Kawhi-less playoff run as a solid indication not just that the team could do damage in the playoffs, but that, with a healthy main rotation, could feasibly win a title. Perhaps Kawhi sees that, too. It’d be a shock if he didn’t; given Paul George’s relatively consistent star turns late in the 2021 playoffs, Reggie Jackson’s (hopefully steady) ascendance, and the development/involvement of Mann, Luke Kennard, and rookiesKeon Johnson, Jason Preston, and Brandon Boston Jr., there’s a foundation built and, dare I say it, a tradition brewing.
Yeah, that’s a bit of a yucky word. But that’s what a contract like Leonard’s tends to inspire in prognosticators. The Lob City teams arguably never had this much hope linked to their playoff dreams. And once Chris Paul and Blake Griffin either departed or fell off, the Clippers left behind were young talents or journeyman projects. This roster, though? With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and the rest of last year’s cast all locked in for a couple more seasons? It feels far from unpredictable. It’s different; it’s nice.
4 ideal Kawhi Leonard trade scenarios from the Los Angeles Clippers
Even though Kawhi Leonard is expected to opt out of his player option and become a free agent this summer, the Los Angeles Clippers could still pull off a sign-and-trade scenario to retool their roster around Paul George.
With the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat reportedly interested in pushing for Leonard, here are some great trade scenarios involving those teams, along with a couple other suitors who could be in the Kawhi sweepstakes.
To be clear, we’re using Leonard’s $36 million player option for 2021-22 as the placeholder in these trade scenarios to make the salaries work. He could stand to make as much as $39.1 million with a new max contract.
Dallas Mavericks pair Kawhi Leonard with Luka Doncic
- Clippers get: Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr. (sign-and-trade), 1st-round pick
- Mavericks get: Kawhi Leonard
Losing so many perimeter threats on offense, and not keeping free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. will be a tough one for the Dallas Mavericks and Luka Doncic to swallow. Oh well. They get Kawhi, so that’s nice.
Although Kristaps Porzingis isn’t part of this deal, he really can’t be. Dallas would find a way to get his contract off the books in a separate trade, or just roll with him for one more season and see how he fares with Leonard and Doncic in the fold.
Whatever the case, the Clippers get some depth and defense on the wing with Dorian Finney-Smith, an explosive backcourt scorer in Hardaway, a viable second-unit floor general in Jalen Brunson and a first-round pick. Not a bad package at all. Better than losing Leonard in free agency for nothing.
One potential hiccup here is that these teams squared off in two straight hard-fought playoff series. Maybe they wouldn’t be open to doing business together. Then again, the Mavs’ interest in Leonard isn’t making headlines for nothing.
Kawhi Leonard joins Jimmy Butler on Miami Heat
- Clippers get: Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala, 1st-round pick
- Heat get: Kawhi Leonard
Using Fanspo.com’s trade simulator and salary cap tools, Miami Heat restricted free-agent sharpshooter Duncan Robinson was given a recommended valuation of $23.7 million in annual salary on a four-year, $95 million contract.
In this scenario, we’re making the assumption that either the Heat matched an offer sheet for that amount from some team other than the Clippers, or just made the hardest push to sign him.
With that established, Los Angeles gets the expiring contract of Andre Iguodala — provided the Heat accept his $15 million team option to facilitate this trade — and Miami nabs Tyler Herro’s team option to include him in the package.
Leonard reportedly wanted to play with Jimmy Butler before Paul George. He’d be an excellent fit in the Heat’s culture, too, and give them a dynamic perimeter scoring threat and elite wing defender they need.
The trio of Bam Adebayo, Leonard and Butler would be a fun one to watch for Miami fans. If Herro lives up to his immense potential and Robinson continues as an elite shooter, the Clippers shouldn’t feel too bad about this deal either.
New York Knicks get a mega star in Kawhi Leonard blockbuster trade
- Clippers get: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, two 1st-round picks (via New York)
- Knicks get: Kawhi Leonard
Getting the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and two first-round picks from the New York Knicks seems like a fair bargain if the Clippers are going to lose Kawhi.
Giving up two younger cornerstones in Randle and RJ Barrett who helped spark their surprise playoff run is worth the cost for the Knicks. At the end of the day, they still need legitimate star power to light up Madison Square Garden, and so few players on the planet can provide that kind of wattage.
A two-time Finals MVP, Leonard is just what New York basketball needs. Yes, there’s some injury risk, but it’s worth the roll of the dice. Maybe it’d take some getting used to head coach Tom Thibodeau’s demanding style and tendency to play his biggest stars huge minutes, but that could certainly be sorted.
The reality is, even Barrett’s most optimistic ceiling is nowhere near what Leonard brings to the court. Randle proved in the 2021 NBA playoffs that he can’t be “that guy” on a championship team, or even close to it. It’s worth getting Kawhi, and the Knicks figuring it out from there. They can certainly lure another superstar with him on the roster.
Indiana Pacers take big swing to land Kawhi Leonard
- Clippers get: Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and a 1st-round pick
- Pacers get: Kawhi Leonard
It’s not an absolutely perfect fit with this general framework of a trade, but the Indiana Pacers could tip off head coach Rick Carlisle’s second stint with a huge splash if Leonard is there to be had.
This isn’t the worst-case scenario for the Clippers, either. They get an elite rim protector in Myles Turner, who’d help solve their lack of depth and size in the frontcourt. Brogdon would eliminate the worry about retaining Reggie Jackson, because he’d be an upgrade.
Leonard in Indiana would be a pretty funny situation, considering it was the Pacers who initially drafted him 15th overall in 2011 before promptly trading him to San Antonio. Maybe Kawhi still feels slighted from that. Nevertheless, the basketball fit is tantalizing.
With Carlisle in Indy and Leonard arriving, free agents would suddenly want to go there. Pairing up Leonard with star big man Domantas Sabonis would be fantastic, and don’t sleep on Caris LeVert. He’s improved as a playmaker, and he and Sabonis averaged 4.9 and 6.7 assists respectively last season for the Pacers.
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Trade kawhi leonard
San Antonio Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard to Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, others
The Kawhi Leonard saga has reached its long-anticipated conclusion.
The Toronto Raptors have traded star guard DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard, a former two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP winner. Spurs veteran Danny Green is also headed to the Raptors with Leonard while the Spurs get DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick in 2019.
The Spurs and Raptors both officially announced the deal on Wednesday, just after noon ET. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich spoke with the media later that afternoon and addressed the trade.
“We wish him well as he moves into Toronto. I think he’ll be great,” Popovich said. “I think this trade is going to work out great for both teams. We wish [Leonard] well, but at this point it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on.
“Kawhi is not going to stop being a great player. But we’re thrilled with DeMar. … To get back a proven NBA player and a proven All-Star, we have to be thrilled.”
As for dealing Green, Popovich said: “It was hard, he’s become a good player. He’ll enjoy Toronto.”
Popovich, who also serves as coach of Team USA Basketball, also said he expects Leonard to be in Las Vegas next week for Team USA’s minicamp and that he is “looking forward” to coaching Leonard there. A recent ESPN report that the seven-year forward is considering participating in the minicamp next week.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Raptors and Spurs had been discussing a trade for a while now. A source tells Turner Sports’ David Aldridge a long-term stay in Toronto past the 2018-19 season for Leonard is going to be “a very tough sell.”
As word of the trade circulated the NBA social media atmosphere early this morning, DeRozan took to Instagram and posted a story there that read: “Be told one thing & the outcome another. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out for a quick bit of nothing … Soon you’ll understand … Don’t disturb.”
Aldridge reports (via Twitter) that DeRozan is not backing off his claim that Toronto lied to him.
Meanwhile, @DeMar_DeRozan not backing off of claim he was lied to by Toronto regarding a potential trade, per source. Extremely upset.
* Aldridge:Neither player happy with offseason trade
News of the reported deal broke early Wednesday as the Raptors and Spurs reportedly engaged in serious talks involving the Raptors acquiring the two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year and former NBA Finals MVP Leonard. The details of the trade were still being worked out early Wednesday, but centered on Leonard and DeRozan, writes Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania:
Talks between the Spurs and Raptors have intensified in recent days, league sources said. …
From the moment Leonard made clear his desire for a trade out of San Antonio, the Spurs have taken a patient, deliberate approach to finding a resolution. Several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, emerged as suitors, but most NBA executives believed the Raptors presented the best potential current and future package.
Leonard is scheduled to enter free agency in 2019 and has no intention to commit to Toronto long-term, league sources said. DeRozan also has expressed displeasure toward a possible move, becoming aware of the possibility late Tuesday night, league sources said.
Per Haynes (via Twitter), Leonard reportedly has no desire to play in Toronto. And Yahoo Sports’ Jordan Schultz reports (via Twitter) that the Raptors were hesitant to include young swingman OG Agunoby in any Leonard-DeRozan swaps.
DeRozan had spent his entire career with the Raptors (2010-18), emerging as one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference. Since making his first of his four career All-Star berths in 2013-14, DeRozan has averaged 23.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in that span. He was named to the All-NBA second team this season and was All-NBA third team in 2016-17.
Last season, he averaged 23.4 ppg while improving a key facet of his game by hitting a career-high 89 3-pointers. He has three years and and $83 million left on his contract, including an Early Termination Option for the 2020-21 season.
Leonard’s future has been a subject of league-wide fascination ever since it was first reported he wanted to leave the only team for which he has played. Despite attempts by the Spurs — including a try by Popovich — to mend the relationship, Leonard and his camp have steadfastly maintained their distance as the offseason has worn on.
The strain between Leonard and San Antonio built throughout the 2017-18 campaign as the former 15th overall pick dealt with a quad injury that kept him from playing in all but nine games. The unusual recovery time was compounded by his physical separation from the team, as Leonard continued his rehab in New York. His absence was especially notable during the Spurs’ first-round playoff exit to the Golden State Warriors. Leonard was then spotted at a Los Angeles Dodgers home game three weeks later.
DeRozan is the Raptors’ all-time leader in points scored (13,296), games played (675), field goals made (4,716) and attempted (10,532) as well as free throws made (3,359) and attempted (4,277). He also ranks third all-time in assists (2,078) and second all-time in steals (655).
The Raptors went through a series of changes in the offseason after they were swept in the Eastern Conference semifnials by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coach Dwane Casey — the NBA’s Coach of the Year — was fired days after that playoff exit and was eventually replaced by Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse.
Shortly after Casey’s firing, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri said roster changes could be afoot for the team. But, he was quick to point out the timetable for those changes were hardly known at that point.
“It is something we’re looking at … not saying this roster is perfect,” Ujiri said then. “Things we need to do and I need to do to get better. Roster changes is not something I can change today. Sometimes [it takes] takes 2 months, sometimes a year, sometimes two years.”
Los Angeles had long been reported as Leonard’s preferred destination. Talks between the Spurs and Lakers reportedly took place on more than one occasion, but never gained enough momentum for completion.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
With Kawhi Leonard finally announcing his decision to join the Clippers, it’s time to revisit the most important trade of the 2018 offseason. The Spurs, finally admitting there wasn’t a viable path to repairing the team’s relationship with its disgruntled star, sent him to the Raptors along with Danny Green, in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and the Raptors’ 1st round pick in this year’s draft, which turned out to be Keldon Johnson.
Given all that Kawhi and the Raptors achieved together, grading the trade for the two sides might seem simple, but there’s a lot more to consider than just who changed teams. So let’s dig in and examine the winners and losere in the trade of Kawhi Leonard.
1. Kawhi Leonard
It’s hard to overstate just how well this has all worked out for the San Diego State product. He moved to a franchise willing to cater to his whims, managed his workload during the regular season to an astounding degree, and asserted himself as possibly the best player in the league on the biggest stage there is. He now has a 2nd NBA championship and a 2nd Finals’ MVP under his belt and just had multiple franchises bowing and scraping at his feet just for the privilege of paying him as much money as they are legally allowed to.
Now he’s going to play in the exact market he wanted to play in for a franchise that’s made some of the shrewdest moves over the last couple of seasons, acquiring a bevy of young talent on good deals. Though they’ve flipped much of their ability to add new young talent over the next 5 years into Paul George, that trade landed Kawhi as well, making it easily worth the cost. With the Warriors’ championship era potentially over, Kawhi and the Clippers will have as good a shot as anyone at taking the Western Conference.
If the Clippers win the title next season and Kawhi outplays George, he’s going to find himself in some rarefied air. Being the best player on back to back title teams is always impresssive, but doing it with two different franchises is unprecedented.
2. The Raptors
Trading DeMar, by all accounts, was a gut-wrenching decision for Raptors’ management, but it was the right decision for the team and its fans. Even without knowing whether Kawhi’s health would hold up, the Raptors took a swing at taking the belt and it worked. Hindsight makes it seem like an obvious decision, but it clearly wasn’t (something we’ll come back to when we get to losers).
They’ll bring back a core of solid veterans and young talent capable of remaining relevant in the Eastern Conference even without Kawhi. They’ll have the choice of looking to rebuild on the fly, as the Spurs have chosen to do, though they have much more cap flexibility moving forward than the Spurs have in quite some time. If that path doesn’t seem to be working out, they could also take the hard reset option and trade away their vets for draft picks and prospects. Either way, there’s every reason to expect Masai Ujiri and the front office to keep the team moving in the right direction.
3. The Clippers
It will be interesting to watch this team move forward. They massively out-performed expectations last season, especially after trading away Tobias Harris, and appear to have a great understanding of what they have and what they need to compete. By flipping some of their hard-earned assets into Paul George, they’ve given away much of their ability to continue building around their two superstars, but even if their options are limited, betting against Kawhi in a seven-game series may be a fool’s errand. Barring injuries or a new superteam, the Clippers will likely be title favorites for the next 3 years.
4. The Spurs
It could be argued that unless Keldon Johnson turns into an All-NBA player, the Spurs got fleeced in the trade — so how can they be considered winners? Easy, because they got exactly what they wanted out of the deal. They needed scoring and playmaking to fix their dreadful offense, and they got both in DeMar. They needed a capable young big to supplant the aging Pau Gasol, and they got one in Jakob Poeltl. They needed to continue adding to their cast of talented young players as they search for their next franchise cornerstone, and they got a draft pick. They did all of that without compromising their future cap room and maintained all the flexibility they need to continue investing in that group of potential future stars.
Was DeMar good enough to be the centerpiece of the other side of a Kawhi trade? No. Is Jakob’s potential enough to make up the difference? Also no. Did the 29th pick have enough value to make up the difference? Of course not.
The Spurs may not have gotten equal value in return — nobody ever does when they trade away an elite player — but at least they got something. Holding on to Kawhi for another season, without resolving his friction with the team, was never a practical option. Even if they had, they’d likely still have lost Kawhi and wouldn’t have gotten anything in return because it is now obvious that his plan was to go home all along. With their backs against the wall and the whole world aware that Kawhi needed to move, the Spurs managed to extract just enough value to keep the team moving forward.
If it’s hard to believe there weren’t better options on the table, then congratulations, you just identified the losers in this whole ordeal.
Honorable Mentions: Every other player on the Raptors, Canada, people who’d like to believe that the Eastern Conference is a viable and competitive part of the National Basketball Association, parity and Warriors haters.
1-?. Every other potential contender in 2018-19
One year of the best players in the league playing at his absolute best in May and June is worth more than DeMar, Jakob and a late first rounder all by himself, and that’s without considering how good Danny Green is. But the question isn’t “why didn’t the Spurs get more?” The question is “why didn’t 5 or 6 other teams blow that offer out of the water?”
It’s a bit nonsensical to assume the Spurs rejected an offer that was clearly better. While teams may have offered packages more focused on future assets than current talent, it’s unclear why DeMar would’ve been the best veteran player on the table. Once the Spurs made it obvious they were looking for the type of offer they eventually took, it seems pretty evident now that nearly finished every player in the league should’ve been available.
Put another way, how many teams would’ve won the title if they had replaced their best, or in some cases, second best player with Kawhi? And all of those teams had an opportunity to trade for him when his value was as low as it will ever be. They chose not to because of the risk, optics, or some other reason, and that’s fair. But there are a lot of franchises that could’ve had gotten a ring this year if they’d only taken that swing, and every one of them should regret it.
?+1 The Lakers
After missing out on Kawhi, the Lakers find themselves desperately needing to fill out the rest of their roster. While Anthony Davis could be the best player LeBron James has ever had as a teammate, without at least a little depth, there’s no reason to expect them to contend this year. The West will still be a bloodbath, and at this stage of his career it’s hard to expect LeBron to maintain the level of play he’d need for a whole season to cover the massive gaps in the LA’s roster.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, what remains of this year’s free agent class is lackluster at best. Danny Green represents an upgrade at shooting guard and they’ve committed to reuniting AD with DeMarcus Cousins, which is ... interesting, if nothing else. Regardless, the team that scored the biggest coup of the early offseason appears to have come up just a little short of refashioning themselves into a championship squad.
It’s impossible to know what, exactly, the Lakers offered for Kawhi last year, but it wasn’t enough. Had they executed that trade, there’s a good chance he’d still be on their roster and they would’ve been able to pursue any of the other free agents on the market this offseason instead of watching and waiting, and eventually finding themselves on the outside looking in.
Honorable Mentions: Team doctors (Spurs and Warriors especially), the 76ers a 2nd time because even with Kawhi the Raptors needed every one of those last 4 bounces to beat them, and everyone who downplayed Kawhi’s trade value last summer.
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For months (maybe a year), the conventional wisdom around the league has been that Kawhi Leonard would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Clippers, then turn around and re-sign with them (for more money and, if he wants, years). The theory was Leonard had worked too hard to get home to Southern California, he pushed to get Paul Goerge there (and George extended with the Clippers), Leonard wasn’t leaving.
Leonard did decline his player option, as expected.
While he likely still re-signs with the Clippers, he will listen to offers from other teams, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports/TNT.
There have been whispers of Leonard’s frustrations with the Clippers medical staff, it’s unclear if that is behind this, or if it’s something else, or if he just wants to be recruited a little. Good luck trying to get into Leonard’s head, he’s not on social media and his face is expressionless on the court.
The fact that Leonard will miss most or all of next season following ACL surgery for an injury that kept in out of the final eight playoff games for the Clippers is not going to scare any team off. Much like Kevin Durant after his torn Achilles, teams will pay Leonard.
The Knicks would be at the top of that list. They have the cap space to sign Leonard to a max contract, they have an up-and-coming team with Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett, and they have the lure of playing in Madison Square Garden. The Knicks will draw a big star in the coming few years, and they will take a swing at Leonard.
The Dallas Mavericks also will be in the mix, although they would need to shed another $7-$8 million in salary or find a sign-and-trade that works for the Clippers. Leonard next to Luka Doncic would be a top two who could hang with any other pair in the NBA, and the Mavericks are the draw of a very player-friendly organization. As a side note, the Mavericks picked up their $4.1 million team option on Willie Cauley-Stein earlier in the day, not a move a team makes if they are looking to clear cap space.
Miami had been mentioned before as well, and Leonard with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would be a contender in the East. However, with the Heat advancing toward a sign-and-trade deal with Toronto to bring Kyle Lowry to Miami, they are not acting like a franchise that sees itself in the mix to seriously land Leonard.
Other teams could try to jump in with sign-and-trade offers. Still, the most likely result of all this is Leonard re-signs with the Clippers, and they hope he can return for the playoffs next season.