It appears that the Kawhi Leonard era with the San Antonio Spurs is coming to an end. According to multiple reports, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP is looking to leave the franchise via trade.
Multiple outlets say Leonard is seeking a trade from the only NBA team he has ever known. Per ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Leonard wants to be traded to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers. He has reportedly grown dissatisfied with how the organization handled his quad injury and feels the franchise turned on him once Leonard sought a second opinion:
Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
A source with the Spurs told ESPN that Leonard hasn’t asked them for a trade.
If Leonard does become available in trade talks, the Boston Celtics will be interested in probing the Spurs about a deal, league sources told Wojnarowski. Boston inquired about a trade prior to the February deadline, sources said.
The Spurs may not give into Leonard’s preferred destination if you look at how the Indiana Pacers dealt with Paul George’s request last year, according to Wojnarowski.
Indiana had little interest in Paul George trade w/ Lakers — and that’ll be case for Spurs too. Boston gives Spurs best building blocks of assets — one of young forwards (likely Jaylen Brown), its own 18 pick/19 protected Kings pick, etc. Lonzo to Spurs? Don’t hold your breath.
Leonard has communicated with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in recent days, sources say, but the two have yet to speak in person.
Popovich has been out of town all week attending to family business, sources told ESPN’s Michael C. Wright. But he and Leonard have reached out to each other on numerous occasions in recent weeks.
Leonard has been training in San Diego the past month, with a source telling ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that he’s making “great progress ” in his return from the quad injury that forced him to miss all but nine games last season.
Leonard and coach Gregg Popovich were reportedly set to meet in the coming weeks to attempt to iron out their differences. Leonard’s focus has since changed, though, reports Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:
Leonard, 26, was scheduled to speak with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in the coming days to discuss any issues and concerns in efforts to resume what was a one-time viewed as a successful pairing, but instead made his desire to be traded known to team officials.
Now that Leonard’s trade demands are known, the big question is will the Spurs attempt to make a move before next week’s NBA Draft, or make another effort to save their relationship with their star player.
National reports have already surfaced suggesting Leonard preferred destination is the Los Angeles Lakers, but league sources have told the Express-News the Philadelphia 76ers could be in play to acquire Leonard, too.
Leonard played in just nine games for San Antonio in the 2017-18 campaign due to a quad injury he initially suffered in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals. The two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year’s absence was especially notable late in the season, when he went to New York to continue rehab and chose not to be with the team during its playoff run. San Antonio was defeated 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by eventual-champion Golden State.
The two-time All-Star Leonard can enter unrestricted free agency in 2019 if he does not sign a contract extension with the Spurs this summer. Leonard is due just over $20 million next season.
The Lakers may not be the only team in the mix as the LA Clippers may pursue him too, reports Wojnarowski (via Twitter):
Sources: So far, Leonard has expressed nothing directly to Spurs about future. Lakers and Clippers interest Leonard — and both teams would move quickly to assemble packages to acquire Leonard. Spurs won’t rush. Leonard and his camp had shown interest in $219M super max deal.
Yahoo Sports’ Chris Mannix reports via Twitter that the Sacramento Kings may be a team that could get into the Leonard trade mix, too:
Another team to watch in the Kawhi sweepstakes: Sacramento. Kings have talked to teams about the No. 2 pick, per sources, and desperately want an established star.
Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reports four teams — the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers and Clippers — should be the main teams in the hunt for Leonard:
Expect the the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers and Clippers to be the main four teams pursuing Kawhi Leonard, per sources. Teams with top picks could always jump into the sweepstakes, but the risk would be significant considering Leonard has just one more season left on his contract.
Of course, the Spurs are under no obligation to grant Leonard’s desire to be traded to a “preferred” team, as TNT analyst David Aldridge points out via Twitter:
1) If the Spurs grant Kawhi Leonard’s request, they’re under no obligation to trade him to a “preferred” team. 2) Their only obligation would be to make the best deal 4 themselves. 3) And it would clearly make more sense for them to trade him east than keep him in the west.
Additionally, league sources told Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania that Leonard has become uncomfortable with any future with the Spurs and is looking to move on immediately. The tension surrounding the situation between Leonard and the Spurs intensified when, after opting to not be with the team for rehab reasons, Leonard was spotted three weeks later attending a Dodgers game in Los Angeles.
San Antonio is hoping to regain the usual good footing it holds with its stars in order to maintain the standard of excellence they have maintained since drafting Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in 1997. The Spurs had won at least 50 games in every season until 2017-18, when they went 47-35 and finished seventh in the Western Conference.
An offseason like no other seems to lie ahead for the Spurs. Popovich himself has endured plenty at season’s end, as he grieved the death of his wife, Erin, who died in April after battling a prolonged illness. He did not coach in Games 3, 4 or 5 (Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina handled those duties) vs. Golden State. Popovich has coached the team since 1997-98 and is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA. He will also be coaching Team USA before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Then there is point guard Tony Parker, who is a free agent this summer. He said last summer he hoped to make it an even 20 seasons with the Spurs, which would require the team to re-sign him for three years. Parker willingly gave up his starting role to youngster Dejounte Murray this season and remains open to returning to San Antonio.
* DA’s Mailbag: Could Sixers trade for Leonard?
In the Spurs’ frontcourt, All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge is under contract for three more seasons and is fresh off a standout 2017-18 campaign. Additionally, big man Pau Gasol — who is under contract for two more seasons — made it clear he plans to keep playing, too.
“I have plenty of gas in the tank,” Gasol told reporters after Game 5. “I feel like I can do a lot of good things on the floor and play three years, three, four years. So, that’s what’s on my mind. But, knowing that, I also take it one year at a time. I go step by step and try not to look too much into the future because a lot of factors come into play.
“I feel like I’ve had a pretty good season … very efficient for minutes and opportunities that I’ve been given. Obviously I would like to produce more and have the chance to get on the floor a little bit more so I can be the player that I am, that I have been throughout my career and that I still can be.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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