Unless the San Antonio Spurs are a million percent sure they can’t repair their fractured relationship with Kawhi Leonard, I don’t get the urgency in trying to move him.
Offers between now and the dawn of NBA free agency will tantalize, but there’s no reason for the Spurs to make a panic move just because of tiny clocks in the upper right-hand corners of TVs performing countdowns.
And -- less than a week ago -- Spurs G.M. R.C. Buford still didn’t sound ready to raise the white flag.
“We’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him, and we’ll explore all of our options,” Buford told reporters. “But the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as a part of our group.”
Last summer, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich talked LaMarcus Aldridge off the ledge. Different human, different aspirations, different talent level than Kawhi, to be sure, but it is at least a precedent. And a precedent that figured to make it likely San Antonio would draw out the process a bit.
Today, though, it sounds like Buford’s getting itchy.
Adrian Wojnarowski reported around noon that . . .
The Spurs are fully engaged in trade talks with several teams on Kawhi Leonard, including the Lakers and Celtics, league sources tell ESPN. Boston has long had the assets that the Spurs most covet in a potential Leonard trade.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
He added . . .
The Spurs can still play long game with Leonard, try to repair relationship and get to a place where they're comfortable offering $219M super max. The urgency to get a deal done belongs to Lakers now, but circumstances and leverage can change quickly. https://t.co/RIralTBUe9— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
Finally . . .
Boston's extremely cautious on Leonard front. There's so much uncertainty w/ Leonard's future -- health, free agent desires, etc. Will Leonard be same player? That's hard to tell. Celtics don't have to make a risky trade and have no intention to do so. It's an interesting dance. https://t.co/gVECzgxrYM— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
Taking the information piece by piece . . .
1. San Antonio would likely prefer shipping Kawhi to Boston, where he’s out of the conference and the Spurs will be able to get the most in return in either players (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart) or picks (next year’s Sacramento pick). That will take the sting from their somehow butchering a relationship with one of the league’s top five players while effectively sending him into pseudo-exile. For San Antonio, it’s best-case scenario.
2. For the Celtics, there’s no real urgency since they have a terrific team already. That’s why I love the “extremely cautious” portion of Woj’s info. Is Leonard healthy? Has he turned into a head-case? Will he just flee for L.A. after the 2018-19 season anyway and leave Boston sucking on “what ifs”? The upside for Boston has the potential to be fleeting. The only thing that should worry Boston is that Leonard would be the first piece of a newly-formed super team in L.A. If Kawhi goes and Paul George – who seems locked in to the Lakers and will be a free agent this weekend – also goes, then LeBron has his landing spot. Then the Celtics have two Western Conference leviathans to deal with in the Lakers and Golden State. Then again, BFD? Let those two fight to get to the Finals where the Celtics will likely await the winner after getting past the weirdo Sixers. Speaking of the Sixers, that’s another possibility for Leonard and LeBron, as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote. In the end, though, one hopes Danny Ainge’s biggest concern wouldn’t be acquiring Leonard in an effort to block a hypothetical super-team forming. Too many variables and presumptions to make that kind of leap.
3. The urgency is on the Lakers but if they deal half their roster for Kawhi then sign George and pursue LeBron, they will be so top-heavy salary-wise that they’ll be surrounding those three with a dozen minimum-wage players. Might work, sure. But what if they can’t land LeBron after getting Kawhi for whatever reason. Let the Lakers overextend themselves and take the gamble an ass team should have to take. The Celtics are in too good a position to make a panic move like LA.
MORE NBA OFFSEASON
There’s one other circumstance in which Kawhi could land in Boston without the cost being too outrageous. And that’s if Buford does slow-play the market. The perfect team to do that dance with is Boston.
What does San Antonio owe Leonard after he pulled the ripcord on them this year? Why should they send him where he ultimately wants to go in exchange for players who probably aren’t exactly Popovich’s cup of tea? Why would they want to send him in-conference, creating another hurdle for them to deal with if they are able to rebuild?
Sit on him until LeBron and Paul George land then ship Kawhi somewhere else. The Spurs might take a little less back but -- if it’s a little less and coming from Boston -- it means Kawhi’s out of their hair and Boston sent them a future All-Star.
If the Spurs play the waiting game hoping for Boston to cough up what they want, that’s the perfect scenario. Let everybody else flip out about fake deadlines. Now’s the time to play it cool.