Kawhi Leonard Trade: Which NBA Team Will Move for the Spurs’ M.V.P. Forward, and What Will They Give Up?

It’s not very often that M.V.P.-level players appear on the trade block. It’s still rarer that the San Antonio Spurs fall out with one of their M.V.P.-level players.

But the perfect storm apparently engulfing the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard might leave the NBA’s steadiest franchise with no option but to trade him.

Leonard is unhappy in San Antonio and the Spurs are unhappy with him, according to a report written by ESPN ’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday. Wojnarowski described how Leonard’s recovery from a right quadriceps injury is creating a “chilling effect” between the 26-year-old and the Spurs coaching staff. “Multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as 'distant' and 'disconnected' from the organization,” Wojnarowski wrote.

R.C. Buford, the Spurs’ General Manager, responded to that article on Monday in a statement that didn’t exactly refute Wojnarowski’s report. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi,” Buford said in quotes reported by Pounding the Rock, the Spurs blog. “He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”

On Tuesday Jalen Rose dropped a bomb on ESPN's First Take that corroborated Wojnarowski’s report. “(The Spurs have) been unable to attract elite level, All-NBA-caliber free agents to come play with him,” Rose, an NBA veteran, said in quotes reported by New England Sports Network. “We always talk about players going to join large market teams. We never say, ‘Who’s going to San Antonio to go play with Kawhi?’

“Players talk about wanting to win and wanting to be a champion, but ultimately they want to do it on their own terms”, Rose added. “When you go to San Antonio, guess who’s the CEO of that organization? Gregg Popovich. It’s going to be his way.”

 

 

The difficulty for the Spurs, if Leonard really is determined to leave, is going to be finding a trade partner ready and able to give them anything like equal value in return. It feels like San Antonio might have to go through the same difficulties as the Cavaliers endured with Kyrie Irving last summer. Only Leonard may be even more valuable as a prolific scorer and one of the NBA’s best defensive players.

It’s worth noting that the Spurs have done pretty well this season so far without Leonard. Could they demand a slew of first-round picks from a fringe contender in the East determined to win now, like the 76ers? That could give the impression to their fanbase that they are set on a rebuild, though. But acquiring a superstar in return for Leonard—say, Russell Westbrook—is going to be fraught with difficulty.

Perhaps the Spurs could do something really kooky like offer Lonzo Ball a route out of the Los Angeles fishbowl. If anyone can control LaVar it’s Popovich, and San Antonio is the kind of smaller market that might suit Lonzo. Whatever the Spurs decide, the road ahead—post-Leonard—isn’t going to be easy.

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