Kawhi Leonard
Projecting a Kawhi Leonard trade isn’t as easy at it appears according to the media (Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports)

Kawhi Leonard is the biggest fish on the trade market this offseason after he requested a trade away from the Spurs organization. Leonard joins the likes of Paul George and LeBron James who could be had this summer. While Leonard can request a trade all he wants, the fact of the matter is there isn’t an easy pathway to creating a trade. Leonard specially mentioned the Lakers as the team he wants to play for but there will be other teams involved in the discussions. The Clippers, Celtics, 76ers, etc will have something to say to the Spurs brass about a potential trade. It’s that time of year! It’s time to craft up the trade machine to find a potential swap for Kawhi Leonard.

Let’s start by saying that the trade machine hasn’t been totally updated quite yet. Leonard’s salary is actually $20 million, not $18. Let’s also start the discussion by stating the fact that there is no logical pathway to a Kawhi Leonard deal to the Celtics. Unless a sign and trade is orchestrated for Marcus Smart, Kawhi isn’t coming to Boston. You can read more on why that’s the case here.

The Lakers will insist that Luol Deng has to be in any Kawhi trade. Of course, that ugly contract is probably a non-starter for San Antonio. Deng will make upwards of $17 million for two more years. That’s really where negotiations will get tricky because if the Lakers don’t send Deng in a deal, then the door of adding both LeBron James and Paul George is closed. Why trade young talent like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram if you can just sign those two guys with cap space? It’s impossible that a Lakers trade for Kawhi happens before free agency begins unless Deng is included which probably won’t be acceptable when looking at a deal from the Spurs angle.

Once Paul George and LeBron James are signed to deals with the Lakers, then they could theoretically package Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Kyle Kuzma in a deal to land Kawhi even if Deng isn’t included. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs brass isn’t going to do the Lakers any favors and that may be where the Spurs draw the line in the sand. Plus, who wants Lonzo Ball either? Magic Johnson will have to pull off a miracle to convince the Spurs to take Deng.

The cross-town rival Clippers may actually have the better chance at a deal with the Spurs for Leonard. The problem is that deal would have to happen before the draft. The Clips hold the 12th and 13th overall selections in the 2018 NBA Draft. They also have an easy pathway to matching salaries by adding Tobias Harris who is a 19.3 point per game scorer a year ago coming on an expiring contract. Adding a Patrick Beverley in a deal also makes sense if the Spurs want a defensive stopper in the backcourt. Giving the Spurs two first-round picks in this year’s draft is a hell of a start to any deal. Throwing them an extra first rounder or two probably seals the deal. The Clippers may actually have the advantage to any deal over the Lakers because Harris doesn’t have negative value. In fact, the Spurs could probably move him to a third team for value if they so choose.

Move Over Lebron Philly Wants Kawhi Leonard

You can make the case that the 76ers have the best pathway to a trade. All they have to do is add Robert Covington and the salaries match. Chad Bauman wouldn’t be too upset if this happened. They also have interesting players they can add to a deal. I’m sure Philly would cough over Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz if it meant getting a trade to go through. Philly also has draft capital including the 10th pick in this year’s draft that can be used. If the 76ers don’t get LeBron, this is really the way to go. Philly could maintain max space too even after a deal for Leonard. If any team has the motivation to get something done during the draft, it’s Philly. Adding Kawhi may convince either Paul George or LeBron to shift gears and head to the 76ers.

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The ball is in your court, San Antonio. Knowing the Spurs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Popovich just lets him rot on the bench just to prove a point and it would be pure entertainment. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to get 100 cents on the dollar for Kawhi after he requested a trade and barely played this past year.