After last Friday’s trade announcement and Tuesday night’s meeting, Kawhi Leonard-based trade talks and speculations are stronger than ever. This provides a good opportunity to examine the key assets that teams that have the best chance of trading for Leonard currently have.
The Boston Celtics have what amounts to probably the best set of assets any team potentially interested in Leonard can offer the Spurs. In terms of draft picks, they have the 27th pick in this draft. While that pick may not be too exciting for a team that may have to trade away it’s superstar player, Boston’s picks in next year’s draft are much better assets. They own the Memphis Grizzlies’ pick next year if it falls outside of the top 8 (it’s top 6 protected in 2020 and unprotected in 2021). They own the Los Angeles Clipper’s 2019 pick as long is it not in the lottery. If it does end up being a lottery pick, they will own the Clippers’ 2020 pick, which is lottery protected as well. If both of the Clippers’ 2019 and 2020 draft picks are lottery picks, the pick will convey to two second round draft picks in 2021. The Celtics’ best draft asset in the coming years by far, though, is the better of next year’s Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers pick. While next year is the first season that the new lottery odds are introduced, the Kings’ 2019 first round pick is still projected to be a very good pick. This is the type of asset a trade could be built around.
On Wednesday, Zach Lowe released a piece detailing the similarities between Jaylen Brown and Leonard’s first several seasons in the league. In that piece, he outlined several important factors in a potential Leonard to Boston trade. First, Jayson Tatum is probably off the table in any potential trade, and while the Celtics may consider trading Brown to the Spurs, they would need assurance that he is expecting to sign there long term. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics trading Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward, but both of their names have been mentioned as the easiest ways to make salaries work before free agency. Either deal would probably be too risky for the Celtics without commitment from Leonard.
Los Angeles Clippers
While there has been varying conflicting reports throughout the past week about specific details of Leonard’s trade demands or communication with the Spurs, one fact seems to be unanimous – Leonard would eventually like to play for a Los Angeles team. While the Clippers seem to be second on the list of Los Angeles teams that Leonard would like to play for, it seems that their geographical location is at least enough to get them considered for Leonard’s long term plans.
In this year’s draft, the Clippers have both the 12th and 13th picks. If they were to trade both for Leonard, they would need to wait to make the trade official until after they make one or both selections on draft night, as they may not own their 2019 pick and trading both would put them in violation of the Stepien rule.
What this means is that if the Spurs and Clippers have agreed to a trade before the draft, the Clippers will make the picks for the Spurs and the trade would be announced shortly after. While it ultimately doesn’t affect the timing of the trade too much, it means that for a deal between the Clippers and Spurs to be successful, there will need to be some coordination ahead of time. It also means that if the Spurs aren’t interested in players that the Clippers draft, the Clippers probably won’t have the assets to trade for Leonard.
If the Clippers do acquire Leonard in a trade, most assume that Tobias Harris would be the main player traded to the Spurs. In combination with Harris and draft compensation, the Clippers could include Patrick Beverley or Montrezl Harrell. Beverly in particular is interesting as the Spurs may be in the market for a 3-point shooting defensive specialist this off-season.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the team that Leonard has reportedly directly expressed interest in joining, but it is unclear if they can put together a trade that the Spurs would agree to. In this year’s draft, they have the 25th pick, which they received in their mid-season trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They also own have their own pick in next year’s draft, but the Spurs have to assume that if they trade Leonard there, then one or two other star players are likely to join him. It will likely not be a very strong pick if that is the case.
In terms of players that the Lakers could include in a trade, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, or Kyle Kuzma certainly hold the highest value to the Spurs . The Lakers also have some young players on team friendly contracts, such as Josh Hart, who may be included if it would get the deal done. Before July 1st, though, the Spurs would have take back Luol Deng’s contract in any trade with the Lakers, something they are probably fairly averse to do. If the Lakers were ultimately the team that the Spurs trade Leonard to, it would likely happen well after draft night.
The 76ers have been linked to the Leonard trade talks from the beginning for a number of reasons. Like the Celtics, they are a team that is projected to be a strong playoff contender for years to come while also having a handful of strong trade assets. That unique pairing makes both them and Boston the teams with the highest chance of signing Leonard long term that aren’t in Los Angeles.
In this years draft, they have both the 10th pick and the 26th pick in the first round. Next year, they have the worst of either their own, or the Kings’ first round pick. That pick does not help them much as it will probably be their own pick and it will almost certainly be late in the first round. The number 10 pick could provide a cornerstone for a potential trade, however.
Players that the 76ers may consider including in a potential deal could be any of Dario Saric, who has been solid in his first two NBA seasons, Robert Covington, TJ McConnell, or Jerryd Bayless, who’s contract could help make certain trades work. The Sixers could also offer the Spurs Markelle Fultz, who after a strange rookie season, could become an impact player for the Spurs if he develops into the player he was projected to be entering the NBA. Because of their combination of players and picks, Philadelphia isn’t on a strict timetable like several of the other teams are.
Pick information from https://basketball.realgm.com/nba/draft/future_drafts/detailed