Five Potential Destinations for Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard shocked the NBA world on Friday by demanding a trade from the San Antonio Spurs after a fraught and injury-plagued 2017-18 season. Here are five potential destinations for the disgruntled superstar.

The San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard have been at odds for most of the season. Leonard played only nine games this season due to a hamstring injury, and his absence from the Spurs' locker room during his rehab led to rampant speculation about a potential falling out between the Spurs and their best player. Still, most NBA observers assumed that the issue would resolve itself in time. After all, San Antonio's 20+ years of no-drama, selfless, championship-level basketball would indicate that this was just a blip on the radar.

However, it turns out that all was not well down by the Riverwalk. Even though there had been rumblings of discord for months, most people believed that any discomfort on Kawhi's end would be resolved if the Spurs offered Leonard a five-year, $219 million supermax. Instead, Leonard and his camp informed the media on Friday that he wanted out of San Antonio and would prefer to be traded to Los Angeles (and the Lakers in particular). While the Spurs are in no rush to comply with Leonard's demands, it would seem that a draft-day trade would make the most sense for both sides. With that in mind, here are five potential landing spots for the superstar forward.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The preferred destination for Kawhi Leonard and his camp is also one of the more logical ones for the Spurs. Since Kawhi holds a player option for the 2019-2020 season, any team looking to trade for him would have to be pretty confident in their chances of holding onto him after next season. Leonard and his camp (and particularly his uncle) have expressed interest in getting Kawhi to a bigger market, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the LA market--especially the Lakers, who have the cap-space to sign multiple top free agents--would be at the top of their list.

However, the Spurs have no reason to trade Kawhi to his preferred destination; they will only be looking for the best return haul for their young superstar. Luckily for them, however, the Lakers can also provide one of the best trade packages for Kawhi. Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka, and co. can offer up two different recent #2 overall picks in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, in addition to two budding young prospects in Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart. A package centered around Ingram, one of Kuzma or Hart, and the Lakers' 25th overall pick in this upcoming draft might not be worth a superstar entering his prime, but it might be the best offer that the Spurs can get.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

The Lakers might be the glamor name the NBA market in Los Angeles, but don't count out their Staples Center counterparts. The Clippers might not be able to offer a young prospect on the level of Brandon Ingram or Lonzo Ball, but they do have two lottery selections in the upcoming draft. While they cannot trade both of them due to an outstanding obligation to the Boston Celtics, they can offer up one of those two picks in addition to some veteran talent for a Spurs team that still made the playoffs last season even with Leonard sidelined for pretty much the entire season.

Given that the Spurs did make the playoffs last season, they might be willing to offer up their 2019 first-round selection. It might seem counter-intuitive for San Antonio to give up a future asset, but giving up that 2019 pick would allow the Clippers to not only trade both of their lottery picks this year but would also free them to move a future first-round pick. The Clippers could offer #12, #13, Tobias Harris, Patrick Beverley, and a conditional 2021 first-round pick (that would convey that year if their 2019 pick goes to Boston and would turn into their 2022 first-round pick if they are in the lottery next season) in return for Kawhi and San Antonio's 2019 first-round pick. This package might not be as good as the one that their hometown rivals could offer, but Jerry West and Steve Ballmer will certainly be willing to find a way to pay up for a transformational player like Kawhi.

3. Boston Celtics

With their treasure trove of assets still not empty just yet, the Boston Celtics will be one of the prime contenders for any potential superstar trade this offseason. The Celtics do not exactly need another superstar wing player, but their wing depth also makes them one of the more interesting trade partners for the Spurs. After all, they can afford to give up a stellar young wing player that would intrigue the Spurs while also helping them to grow their future asset pool while still remaining competitive.

The primary issue for Boston would be whether or not they can convince Kawhi to re-sign. Boston is a bigger market than San Antonio but is clearly a step down from Los Angeles in that regard. With that in mind, Trader Danny Ainge will want to hang on to his draft picks and players if he doesn't think Kawhi is guaranteed to stick around, and the Spurs will probably turn down anything but Boston's best offer. Jayson Tatum is presumably off the table, but a package consisting of Jaylen Brown and two of Boston's four first-round selections in next year's draft would be a better deal for the Spurs than basically anything else that might be on the table.

4. New York Knicks

The New York Knicks have the least to offer of any team on this list, but they can offer the biggest market and a team that has been beyond desperate for success for decades. Sending Kawhi off to work under James Dolan would also fulfill any potential desire for revenge that might rest in R.C. Buford's heart. The Knicks are in a strange position at the moment in that they do not owe any future first-round picks, but that would change quite quickly if they managed to find a way to insert themselves in the Kawhi Leonard trade talks.

A package centered around Frank Ntilikina, the #9 overall pick, and the Knick's 2020 first-round selection might not seem like all that much in the face of some of the other offers on the table. However, the Knicks have a history of almost entertainingly short-sighted trades. With Donald Sterling now mercifully out of the league, the Knicks indisputably have the worst owner in basketball--and one who might be willing to bet the farm on re-signing a superstar who has already publicly mentioned his desire to go to Los Angeles and can opt out after what would probably be a rough season in New York with Kristaps Porzingis watching most of the year from the sidelines.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers are the dark horse in the Kawhi Leonard trade talks. They might not have the glamor of Los Angeles or the enticing treasure trove of assets like the Celtics. However, they do have a pretty solid combination of both--a much bigger market than Boston with a pool of potential future assets that only the Celtics could top. Even though they flamed out of the playoffs in ignominious fashion, they have two future superstars in need of a more mature veteran superstar with defensive versatility and great shooting touch.

The Sixers might not be willing to part with Markelle Fultz at the nadir of his value. However, the Spurs have the best shooting coach in history in Chip Engelland and arguably the best head coach in history in Gregg Popovich. If Pop and Engelland can't turn Fultz around, one could argue that nobody could. The Sixers will probably not make a major move given that they are currently without a GM, but a package consisting of Fultz, the #10 overall pick, and Robert Covington in return for Kawhi and Derrick White might be the perfect combination of young talent and immediate contribution to win over San Antonio's front office.

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