FIVE LANDING SPOTS FOR KAWHI LEONARD
by Tracy Graven
Senior NBA Analyst
By now, nearly everyone in the world of NBA has heard, seen or known that Kawhi Leonard is seemingly unhappy with the situation in San Antonio.
A situation that his introverted personality may have caused the toxicity that is perceived as we try and make sense of this mess. Like picking up puzzle pieces made from soup with chopsticks and putting it back together piece by piece to get a complete picture - unscathed.
Usually - and by usually I mean in the last 25 years - there is no soap opera coming out of the Alamo City. None. Zero. Zilch.
Whether that’s because the organization is adamant that nothing is ever leaked, or because the culture is such that everyone gets along and works their differences out privately. Having spent time in San Antonio, and around that organization, I’d say it’s a little bit of both.
When you look up ‘model franchise,’ no matter the sport, you will always get the San Antonio Spurs. Same with the word ‘professional.’ That’s why this situation has me scratching my head ’til I start losing follicles.
Let’s assume the worst, that this breach is irreparable. The bridges are burned beyond recognition. That there’s a better chance of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un ironing out their differences before Leonard and the Spurs do.
One of those is actually happening.
Where would he go? I have a few places in mind.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
San Antonio has always been about center-centric basketball. There are those that will argue that LaMarcus Aldridge has already assumed the reins and the spurs in San Antonio. And I’ll give him that - he’s playing like he did when he was the marquee guy in Portland.
What if the Clips and the Spurs to come together on a deal that swaps principals like Leonard and DeAndre Jordan?
Leonard and Lou Williams in the backcourt in LaLa Land and San Antonio has it’s next big center. (Yes, I just made Leonard a 6’7” shooting guard instead of power forward).
Maybe it’s me and me alone longing for the return of a twin towers-like tandem not seen since Ralph Sampson and Hakeen Olajuwon. Aldridge and Jordan would make a nice tandem and would keep the Spurs out of a rebuild mode … or at least away from the perception of one.
NEW YORK KNICKS
Let’s face it, Tim Hardaway Jr. is not Kawhi Leonard, despite the fact that Hardaway is having a solid season this year in his second run with the Knicks.
Leonard and his career stat line of 16.2 points, 6.2 boards and 2.3 assists may be mundane to most people, which is why his lockdown defense would give Mark Jackson and the Knicks immediate help since most teams look forward to New York date(s) on their schedule as an easy ‘W.’
(Oops, did I let that slip? No disrespect, Jeff Hornacek, but the writing is on the wall, my friend).
As well, he may be a draw for someone like Jordan or LeBron James to consider a move to The Big Apple and Madison Square Garden and make the Knicks relevant once again.
The Cavs are going to be hurting when James leaves for brighter lights, better owner this summer. It wouldn’t hurt for Koby Altman to look at Leonard and maybe moving guys like Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver to the Spurs.
Factor in that they may be picking somewhere around the Top Ten in this summer’s draft - hell, with Cleveland’s luck, maybe the Top Three - and be able to look at a guy like Michael Porter or Trae Young to help Cavs fans forget that No. 23 left … again.
Leonard would keep the Cavs in the hunt in the East and keep fans in the seats.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Damian Lillard is all but screaming for help and it’s only a matter of time before this ‘Blazer for Life’ pulls a Kevin Durant and bounces out of Rip City. Could a backcourt mate like Leonard save Lillard?
C.J. McCollum has a similar career stat line to Leonard’s, but is adding to his stock this season at 21.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.2 dimes. But, he has to. Aside from Lillard, Portland has some nice - but expendable - pieces.
While they’re on a hell of a run now, we know how the story goes in one of the NBA’s smallest markets. People get tired of ‘almost.’ ‘Nice.’ ‘Mellow.’ No disrespect to these young fellow, but no one has gotten it done before someone got tired of trying in Portland.
Yep, even ‘Glide’ left to get a ring elsewhere.
Portland fans have waited for over four decades for another parade through the Rose City. Leonard, not McCollum, may be the missing piece. Erstwhile, McCollum (and Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu to name a few) may be the spark plug, chip-on-my-shoulder player the Spurs could utilize in replacing Leonard.
The Spurs could get a good look at those players up close if the 3-6 matchup remains as it stands today. Portland versus San Antonio with the Blazers having home court.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
How sweet would it be to have a lineup that features Leonard along with Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Carmelo Anthony, and Steven Adams?
How plausible is it that, in exchange for a talent like Leonard, the teams can orchestrate a swap of Leonard for Paul George?
How realistic is it that the professor (R.C. Buford) does business with his prize pupil (Sam Presti) in the first place?
Sign a guy like Tony Allen for good measure.
None very likely. But it’s my fantasy and you need to stop messing with it.
An addition like Leonard is just what the Thunder need to get next level. It may cost them George or Anthony. Presto has to get something for one or both, at least not let George dissolve into an L.A. sunset like Durant did when he left for Golden State, a ring, and an NBA Finals MVP.
(Okay, that worked out for him).
While it’s the least feasible scenario, it’s one of the most intriguing to me.
Even if such a swap cost the Thunder Steven Adams, they could chase Allen and Denver’s Kenneth Faried as replacements and the Thunder not only get a tad quicker, but with the combination of Leonard, Allen and Roberson, they raise their defense to the level of Westbrook’s athleticism … and expectation.
After all, Westbrook too will soon tire of ‘almost.’
Of course, there’s the outside chance that players meetings aside, public grousing and the brooding photos that have overshadowed the Spurs’ success this season simply fade into the background of the 2017-18 season and we’re all being silly.
The Spurs’ professionalism and the type of people they employ, the integrity of the organization, and the fact that their fans adore them as the only game in town may make this less of a story than it is.
I firmly believe they still want Leonard in the fold.
Question is, the oft-silent Leonard may not feel the same and Buford may be forced to get something for the nothing he’s gotten in all but nine games this season.
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