Uncertainty with his Condition
Regardless of whether Kawhi will return to the court completely healthy, the Spurs organization likes to maintain a handle on its entire operation. They have done their utmost to keep rumors to a minimum, but they would highly benefit from keeping damage control out of their main agenda. Additionally, if Kawhi is indeed a different player than he was before the injury, the Spurs would do well to gain as many assets as possible on his behalf as long as the opportunity still stands. It seems as though his trade value currently puts San Antonio in the position to receive three major pieces in exchange for his services. This would likely include a first round draft pick and two promising young players (at least), which would perfectly set the Spurs up to groom a complete roster.
Being Above Average does Nothing for Franchises in Today’s NBA
Gregg Popovich showed us last season that he can take a slightly above average roster to the playoffs, even in the West. Teams like the Nuggets and Clippers seemingly had talented rosters, but Pop’s tutelage makes anything possible. Regardless, there is only so much that wondrous coaching can do, and even Brad Stevens’ awe-inspiring playoff run last season came to an end when it was time to face star power. The same goes for stacking up against teams like the Warriors, Rockets and Lakers. The Spurs have made it abundantly clear that they will not be tanking any time soon, and I do believe that this is the right decision. They will likely wait until Pop’s retirement to even consider doing so, and a team with such a historically savvy front office can certainly pull off a trade that gets them the right assets to continue contending. I don’t think San Antonio has a prayer in 2018, but the same cannot be said for the forthcoming year, when tons of promising free agents hit the market. If they can muscle out one season of mediocrity while prioritizing the development of the rest of their roster, San Antonio can surely take big steps in bringing their organization back to the forefront.
Thinking Long Term
In order to understand why the Spurs would benefit from trading Kawhi, we must understand the assets that they will receive in return. This will likely include talented young players on attractive contracts, setting the team up to experiment next season. They did well to retain Rudy Gay on a one-year deal, who can easily slot into Kawhi’s position and continue to improve on the progress that he showed last season after coming back from an Achilles tendon tear a season prior. Danny Green and Manu Ginobili each have one more year on their deals, and they will prove to be helpful mentors for Lonnie Walker IV who fell to them in the draft. The Miami product has a high basketball IQ and finds himself in a perfect situation heading into the future. These three, along with the return of Marco Belinelli gives them plenty of shooting depth to fully embrace the emerging high scoring style of the NBA. At point guard, Dejounte Murray is now set for heavy minutes at a bargain price as he continues to develop. Pau Gasol will be overpaid in 2018-2019, but this year will surely work more as a period of transition in which San Antonio can afford to give him the money. Only $7 million of his $16 million deal is guaranteed for 2019-2020, giving them flexibility in their frontcourt. Lastly, LaMarcus Aldridge revitalized his career last season, and should continue to produce at a high level as he poises himself for another year as the go-to player on offense. Essentially, most of the Spurs’ mediocre players (Gay, Ginobili, Green, Gasol) will either find a different home next offseason or take salaries that give San Antonio plenty of options in the future. Many stars will be looking for a payday next summer, and the Spurs will be one of the franchises who will be able to afford to do so.
Surely, Kawhi Leonard is a top-five player in the NBA when healthy, and it is not the ideal scenario to have to let him go. However, his relationship with the Spurs seems more irreparable with every coming day, and with two years on his deal remaining (the last year being a player option), he still commands plenty of value on the trade market and can set San Antonio up with a promising roster for the future. The key is that they must be patient in waiting on a trade offer that adequately suits their needs, while also making sure to not miss out on their window of opportunity to get something out of Kawhi’s hope for an exit.