Yes, it feels completely ridiculous that the Spurs could trade Kawhi Leonard, their former Finals MVP and the 26-year-old cornerstone that they’ve been building their franchise around for years now. But as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright reported Monday, the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is strained. Leonard “wants out,” according to ESPN’s Jalen Rose. So what would it take to pry him from San Antonio? Our basketball staff made some offers:
Spurs receive: C.J. McCollum, Noah Vonleh, Zach Collins, Jusuf Nurkic
Trail Blazers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol
Jason Concepcion: Picture this—Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, wearing a pinstripe vest and no shirt, walks into Paul Allen’s majestically appointed office in the Moda Center and says, “Paul, what the fuck did we trade Will Barton for?”
Then Allen puts down his original 1966 Fender Stratocaster, the one that Jimi Hendrix smashed over Pete Townshend’s head backstage at the Monterey Pop Festival, and goes “Who?”
“Will ‘The Thrill’ Barton, Paul! December 2015! WHY DID WE TRADE HIM THOUGH? For Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, and Victor what’s-his-name? WHY, PAUL?”
“Um. I don’t know, I’ll look into it. What’s wrong?”
“How about this,” Lillard says. “Explain to me the last, like, five years of this franchise. I’M 27. I DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME LEFT. I NEED HELP OUT HERE. EVAN TURNER AIN’T IT. ALSO I’M MAD AT C.J. FOR REASONS.”
Allen and Dame lock eyes. A fraught silence fills the room.
“Say no more,” Allen says.
He picks up the phone.
Spurs receive: Russell Westbrook
Thunder receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Danny Chau: Hello, it is me, your friend Danny. Let’s set the world on fire.
I’d like to think that I’m an eternal optimist within the confines of the NBA sphere; I don’t entirely buy the idea that there’s a huge rift between the Spurs and Kawhi, and I sure as hell don’t think the Spurs are in any rush to trade him. As such, my trade proposal is more of a sliding-doors thought experiment, one that puts two of the most intriguing team-building scenarios through to fruition. What if you swap Leonard and Westbrook right now?
Of course, you can’t—Westbrook’s recent mega-extension means he won’t be trade-eligible until September 28. Let’s assume we’re there. And let’s assume Paul George will stay put in OKC. Forget about unicorns—legitimate 3-and-D superstar wings might be the rarest commodity in the NBA today. What happens when you have two of the best on the same team? The switch everything approach to modern defense becomes elementary; a motion offense is simply accommodating the strengths of your two best players. It sounds beautiful.
And then there’s the prospect of Westbrook’s union with Gregg Popovich, something I’ve dreamed about since before Kevin Durant decided to leave for Golden State. Reining in players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is child’s play compared to the unique challenge of Westbrook, who has been able to Eurostep past any notion of confinement by sheer force of will. I don’t want this Kawhi era of the Spurs to be over, but wave this trade in front of me, and I’ll flip in an instant.
Spurs receive: Corey Brewer, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, two first-round picks
Lakers receive: Kawhi Leonard
Jonathan Tjarks: It’s impossible to come up with a good trade for Leonard. San Antonio would be tearing down a foundation it has spent 20 years building. This trade would at least allow the Spurs to start over with two extremely talented under-23 forwards as well as a solid rookie guard in Josh Hart and two future first-round picks. Kuzma looks like a 10-year NBA starter, but whether this deal would make any sense depends on how you view Ingram’s potential after two up-and-down seasons in the NBA. Put some meat on his bones and get him in the gym with the Spurs shooting coach, and he could become a cornerstone player.
Spurs receive: Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes, a first-round pick (via the Lakers), another first-round pick (via the Grizzlies)
Celtics receive: Kawhi Leonard
Bill Simmons: Who says no?
Spurs receive: Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Trey Lyles, Wilson Chandler, a 2018 first-round pick
Nuggets receive: Kawhi Leonard
Chris Ryan: The Nuggets are fun and nobody cares. They are 25th in attendance, and they haven’t had a true franchise player since Carmelo Anthony left in 2011. They’ve had very good players, they have had very promising players, they even have a unicorn. But they don’t have anyone approaching Kawhi Leonard’s pedigree. They are sitting on a pile of assets for this exact kind of (albeit likely fictional) opportunity. Last November, ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote that the Nuggets were “confident they still have the goods to butt into trade talks for the next disgruntled star.” When you have a chance to get a top-five player, you do it, even if it means selling on a magical player like Jokic. The Nuggets would have a thin bench and a bare cupboard, asset-wise, but next season they would be able to build around Leonard, Paul Millsap, and Gary Harris. San Antonio would feel the pain of losing its franchise player, but the Spurs would be able to return to their roots, building around a foundational big man. Murray could replace Danny Green, Trey Lyles would no doubt improve, and Wilson Chandler could be a useful two-way player riding out his deal. It would hurt to trade Leonard within the conference, but this is a haul that could reboot the Spurs for the next 10 years.
Spurs receive: Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, first-round pick
Magic receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Justin Verrier: The Spurs don’t make deadline deals, presumably because most trade calls come in during the wine-drinking hour. But if Pop can put the Chianti down for just a second, I think he’d appreciate this offer from a Magic team searching for any identity it can get its hands on. If San Antonio can turn Kawhi from an athletic, defense-first stopper into the league’s elite two-way player, it could certainly make do with Gordon, who is four years younger and whose shot is already most of the way there. Along with the return of Simmons, mostly for the hugs, the Spurs would also get a 2019 first-round pick and a stashed European prospect you’ve never heard of who will make five 3s a game in three years.
Spurs receive: Damian Lillard, Zach Collins, Caleb Swanigan, lottery-protected 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick (via Lakers/Timberwolves)
Trail Blazers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills
Shaker Samman: How do you hit reset without a rebuild? Just like this. The Spurs get the point guard they’ve been looking for in free agency the past few years, along with two young assets they can meld into stars, and Portland gets to flip its unhappy point guard for one of the five best players in the NBA. With Patty Mills at the point, C.J. McCollum is free to become the offensive god he’s destined to be, and Kawhi and Jusuf Nurkic form the most feared defensive duo in the West. Portland adds a protected first and future second so R.C. Buford doesn’t get cold feet, and everyone comes out a winner.
Spurs receive: DeAndre Jordan, Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, two first-round picks
Clippers receive: Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol
Haley O’Shaughnessy: I want the Clippers to rebuild from the ground up, and keep their picks, but that’s a far-fetched task with Blake Griffin’s massive contract on their hands. So go all in, Clips.