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The Hunters for Spurs Star Kawhi Leonard

The Sixers acquired more trade ammunition on draft night, but do they have enough?

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Despite not having a permanent general manager in place, Philadelphia’s 2018 draft did not lack for drama. The post-selection trade of Mikal Bridges to Phoenix for Zhaire Smith and Miami’s 2021 1st-round pick came out of nowhere, rare in a league environment where seemingly every trade rumor has typically been floated out in the twittersphere already.

In the subsequent press conference, Brett Brown alluded to how the deal fit into the team’s overall long-term plans, saying the Sixers “are star hunting” and “that pick might be the thing that links a possible trade”. With those bread crumbs in mind, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes (or even Richaun Holmes) to figure out Philadelphia is going to make a serious push to acquire disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.

With Brown’s ties to San Antonio, the Sixers being one of the few teams with sizable cap space, and the team’s stable of young assets, Philadelphia has been in the conversation for Leonard ever since rumors of his unhappiness in San Antonio first surfaced. Following the events of draft night, here were the updated odds for which team will employ Kawhi at the start of the 2018/19 regular season, per BetDSI (as of 6/22):

Boston Celtics +225
Philadelphia Sixers +350
San Antonio Spurs +400
Los Angeles Lakers +500
Phoenix Suns +700
Los Angeles Clippers +1600
Any Other Team +150

The second-best odds of any individual team! Not too shabby from a Philadelphia perspective.

Now, let’s take a look at what each team has to offer San Antonio in a potential trade. Obviously, whether Leonard indicates he would re-sign or sign an extension with his new club would play a huge role in what a team would be willing to part with in a deal. In this analysis, I’ve left out players who I feel teams would be unlikely to part with (e.g. Jayson Tatum in Boston, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia, Devin Booker in Phoenix, etc.), or who I didn’t feel San Antonio would be interested in, due to either age or contract size). In addition to what I’ve listed, teams also have their own first round picks, and any number of second-round picks, which were omitted for the sake of brevity.

Boston Celtics

Clippers 1st-rounder (top-14 protected in 2019 and 2020, otherwise 2022 2nd-rounder).
Grizzlies 1st-rounder (top-8 protected in 2019, top-6 protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021).
Kings 1st-rounder (top-1 protected in 2019, otherwise Philadelphia’s 1st-rounder in 2019).

Jaylen Brown (2 years left, $11.7M)
Terry Rozier (1 year left, $3.1M)
Semi Ojeleye (3 years left, $4.7M)
Robert Williams, newly drafted rookie

Analysis: Barring something crazy like the Celtics parting ways with Kyrie Irving, any Kawhi Leonard deal would have to center around Jaylen Brown. Besides a young guy with All-Star upside on a rookie deal, the Celtics also have some great draft capital. The Grizzlies pick will likely be a late lottery pick one of the next two summers, and the top-1-protected Kings pick might be the best draft asset in the NBA right now (given the limited protection and the near-certainty of Sacramento being bad in the short-term). It’s easy to see why Boston has the best odds of any individual team. You can thank Billy King and Brooklyn.

Philadelphia 76ers

Heat 1st-rounder (unprotected in 2021).

Robert Covington (4 years left, $46.9M)
Markelle Fultz (3 years, $30.4M)
Dario Saric (2 years, $6M)
Zhaire Smith, newly drafted rookie
Landry Shamet, newly drafted rookie

Analysis: You can understand why Brown valued the Heat pick so highly, as the franchise had suddenly run dry on premium draft capital. That pick would be the centerpiece of a deal, along with Covington and some combination of Fultz, Saric, and the new rookies. It feels like the worst possible time to deal Fultz, as his current value compared to potential upside is at its absolute nadir. If I’m the Spurs and the Celtics are willing to part with Brown, that would be my first call.

Los Angeles Lakers

Lonzo Ball (3 years left, $27.2M)
Brandon Ingram (2 years left, $13M)
Kyle Kuzma (3 years, $7.2M)
Josh Hart (3 years, $7.1M)
Moritz Wagner, newly drafted rookie

Analysis: The Lakers have no additional draft capital and I can’t envision Pop and the Spurs organization dealing with the headache that is the Ball family. Thus, any swap with LA would be centered around Brandon Ingram, which doesn’t seem like quite enough unless Leonard makes it clear that’s the only place he’ll sign long-term, scaring off other potential suitors.

Phoenix Suns

Milwaukee 1st-rounder (protected 1-3 and 17-30 in 2019, top-7 protected in 2020, unprotected in 2021).

T.J. Warren (4 years left, $47M)
Josh Jackson (3 years left, $22M)
Dragan Bender (2 years left, $10.6M)
Mikal Bridges, newly drafted rookie

Analysis: If the Suns were going to get crazy and use the first overall pick that became Deandre Ayton to make a move on Leonard, it probably would have already happened. So a deal to Phoenix would likely involve Jackson, Bridges, and the Bucks pick, along with other parts. Jackson and Bridges don’t appear to have surefire star upside, and the Milwaukee pick will probably end up in the teens or 20’s in 2020. This is a less appealing package for San Antonio than the first three options.

Los Angeles Clippers

Tobias Harris (1 year left, $14.8M)
Patrick Beverley (1 year left, $5M)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, newly drafted rookie
Jerome Robinson, newly drafted rookie

Analysis: The Clippers are only in this discussion because Kawhi said Los Angeles is his preferred destination and the city happens to have two teams. Tobias Harris is an interesting player, but he’s not a star and only has 1 year left on his deal. The new rookies LA just took in the late lottery have potential, but there were a ton of young players with much higher ceilings already mentioned. This trade isn’t happening.

Looking at the big picture, the Lakers have enough to make a reasonable offer, which could prove enough if that’s truly Kawhi’s desired destination and he will accept no substitutes. Realistically, the Celtics have the most covetous array of options they could throw together to entice San Antonio. However, the Miami pick is definitely an elite asset, and certainly puts the Sixers back into the conversation. Maybe Brett’s prior relationship with Kawhi steers him in Philadelphia’s direction, or maybe Danny Ainge is too close-fisted with some of Boston’s better assets. Whatever happens, draft night sure made this offseason a lot more interesting.

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