Injuries have ravaged the NBA from top to bottom this season. On opening night, Gordon Hayward turned his ankle 180 degrees. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry has been in and out of the lineup with plenty of nagging injuries. Even the Cleveland Cavaliers have been dealing with their fair share of injuries, with the biggest one being forward Kevin Love breaking his hand.
Another superstar that was taken down by the injury bug was San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. Before the season, the Spurs announced that Leonard would be sidelined with a right quadriceps injury. Leonard ended up missing the Spurs’ first 27 games and proceeded to play over the next month. He was sidelined for a few games with a shoulder injury, but he was eventually shut down to continue rehabbing his right quadriceps.
Fast forward to now, with a handful of games left, and Leonard still has not returned to the Spurs. The entire organization has been adamant that Leonard’s return entirely depends on him, and at this point some guys have assumed he is not coming back this season.
It really is weird that the Spurs, the model NBA franchise of consistency, are dealing with this kind of drama. But, it has been a nagging problem throughout the season for them. This ongoing kerfuffle has even begun to create irreparable damage to their relationship with The Claw.
The Spurs and Leonard have been tight-lipped on why exactly there is an on-going feud between them, leading to tons of speculation. ESPN’s Jalen Rose had this to share about the situation not too long ago:
— First Take (@FirstTake) January 23, 2018
It makes sense if that is the reason though. This summer, the Spurs had a chance to acquire Kyrie Irving from the Cavaliers as Irving listed the Spurs as one of his “preferred destinations”. In the end, the Cavaliers shipped Irving to Boston for a few assets and the Spurs proceeded to keep their aging core around Leonard.
If talent is the reason why Leonard is now playing hardball with the Spurs, it clearly is sending a message. If the team bends the knee to him, they will be desperately trying to woo free agents like LeBron James this summer. With Leonard,doing this for an entire season though, the Spurs may look to move on from him
Besides Tim Duncan, the face of the Spurs and their consistency is head coach Gregg Poppovich. Poppovich also makes all major basketball decisions for the team and has no quarrel moving on from problematic players. He has always preached a dynamic of finding players that fit the team’s culture more than anything, and Leonard may no longer fit it despite appearing to be the model Spur just a couple years ago.
With it seeming more likely that Leonard is on his way out of San Antonio after this season, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst shared the following nugget on Outside the Lines:
If you were an NBA General Manager, you would be a total muppet if you did not try to trade for Leonard. But, as Windhorst mentioned, the fact that he is available makes the chance of the team moving him even more possible. With next to no surprise, a team that will likely be in the heat of trade discussions with the Spurs are the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When it comes to the Cavs, they could possibly offer a pretty attractive trade package for Leonard. This all hinges on where exactly the 2018 Brooklyn Nets draft selection ends up, but according to Tankathon, it will realistically be in the top seven after the NBA Draft Lottery.
The Nets pick is the biggest piece in this trade as the Spurs can draft a rookie talent to continue their consistent excellence for a long time. Whether it is Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr., Wendell Carter, or even Mohammed Bamba, the Spurs would be able to move forward with a prospect from an extremely talented draft.
Besides the Nets pick, the Cavaliers would have to include Cedi Osman and either George Hill or Tristan Thompson in order to make the trade work. In a perfect world, the Cavs would keep Hill, but if they want to get Leonard, they will ultimately have to trade him. With Hill, the Spurs get a player that they know all too well, as he had some of the best seasons of his career with them. They finally have a stable option at the point and can play him alongside rising star Dejounte Murray.
With Osman, it would be really hard to say goodbye to a fan favorite. But, the Spurs would be able to land a player that they have admired for a while and continue to develop him:
— Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops) June 30, 2017
During his time with the Cavs, Osman has been a stud for the team and brought constant energy on both sides of the ball. Poppovich and the Spurs are notorious for developing foreign prospects into stars, and it would not be surprising if they do again with Osman.
For the Cavs, they would finally acquire another star player to wreak havoc on the Eastern Conference. Leonard would be phenomenal in head coach Ty Lue’s system, as he would be one of the first options on most offensive sets. One of his supposed complaints was not playing alongside enough star power with the Spurs, and he would get exactly that with Kevin Love at his side.
Speaking of star power, if the Cavs were able to get Leonard, it would make it much more likely that LeBron James re-ups with the team this summer. A trio of Love, Leonard, and James would be video game levels of absurdity on a nightly basis.
After trading away Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers have appeared vulnerable at times in the Eastern Conference. If they retain James and bring in Leonard, the team will continue their dominant streak of Eastern Conference titles. To sell Cavs fans even more on this, here are some of Leonard’s highlights from last season:
Even if James does not re-up with the Cavs, there is a litany of other players that fit in nicely alongside Leonard. Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood are all or near the same age as Leonard, and the timeline they share would set the Cavs up for a while. Speaking of Clarkson, acquiring Leonard would also help his chances of being the Cavs’ starting point guard, and he would only flourish in the starting role.
With the prospect of Leonard becoming available, it is all too tantalizing for every team to try and acquire his talents. The Cavaliers really do have a shot at landing him, and it all hinges on the coveted 2018 Nets draft pick. It looks like it will be a high selection in a very talented draft, and the Spurs should take notice.
The relationship between the Spurs and Leonard has deteriorated beyond repair, and it might be for the best for both sides to move on. Leonard in The Land would be a perfect landing spot, as he can play alongside younger star power like Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood, and Kevin Love. There also is a very real chance that bringing in Leonard also retains King James and sets the team up as a force for the foreseeable future.