Why the other Kawhi Leonard trades never happened

ByBobby Marks ESPN logo
Thursday, July 19, 2018

The San Antonio Spurs made it clear they were not attempting a fire sale for Kawhi Leonard built around draft picks and cap space. Their goal was to remain a playoff team in the vaunted Western Conference, which is why they took the Toronto Raptors' offer of DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick.

So what else could the Spurs have gotten for Leonard?

Here is a look at what the potential suitors had to offer in trade talks, who was likely off the table, the challenges teams faced and why the risk was too great for some.

The Spurs' options and complications

The Spurs had the financial advantage with Leonard, though that didn't end up making a difference in trying to resolve their issues with the All-Star forward.

On July 16, Leonard became eligible to receive a five-year, $221 million super max extension from the Spurs. After the trade, the most Leonard can receive in an extension (six months after the trade) will be $108 million over four years (starting in 2019-20). In free agency, Leonard will be eligible to sign a five-year, $190 million contract with Toronto (barring another trade before the deadline) or a four-year, $141 million deal with a team that has cap space.

San Antonio also made it clear that pieces keeping the franchise competitive in the playoff race this season were a priority in any trade. As we'll see, few teams outside of Toronto could swing such a deal for Leonard if he's likely to be a one-year rental.

Off the table: LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili, Rudy Gay (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Davis Bertans (Jan. 15 trade restriction), Marco Belinelli (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Dante Cunningham (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Bryn Forbes (Dec. 15 trade restriction) and Lonnie Walker IV (Aug. 10 trade restriction)

Draft assets

  • Own all future first-round picks (2019-25)
  • Own all future second-round picks (except 2024 to UTA)
  • Cash to be sent out: $5.2 million
  • Draft rights to 12 unsigned players

Tradable contracts

1.Kawhi Leonard: $20.1 million; under contract through 2019-20 (player option)

  • 15 percent trade bonus: $3 million that SAS will pay and added to his salary; Toronto would have a $23.1M cap hit in 2018-19

2.Danny Green: $10 million; under contract through 2018-19

3.Pau Gasol: $16.8 million; under contract through 2019-20

  • $6.7 million guaranteed in 2019-20 (increases to full $16.0 million if not waived by July 1)

4.Patty Mills: $11.6 million; under contract through 2020-21

  • Has $500K in unlikely bonuses (assist-to-turnover ratio greater than 3.0 and total 3s made greater than 185)

5.Derrick White: $1.7 million; under contract through 2020-21

6.Dejounte Murray: $1.5 million; under contract through 2019-20

7.Brandon Paul: $1.4 million (non-guaranteed until Aug. 1); under contract through 2018-19

Complicating factors

  • Belinelli will trigger the $129.8 million hard cap when he is officially signed.
  • Before the Leonard trade, San Antonio was $10.2 million below the tax apron and $4.5 million below the tax.

How the Raptors checked the boxes

While Boston and Philadelphia certainly had better draft assets, neither team had what the Spurs were looking for -- an established All-Star in DeRozan who can play on the wing and has length on his contract.

Combined with a young center prospect in Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick (that converts to two second-round picks if not bottom 10 in 2019), Toronto checked the boxes for the Spurs' front office.

Off the table: Fred VanVleet (Dec. 15 trade restriction) and Lorenzo Brown (Dec. 15 trade restriction)

Draft assets

  • Owned all future first-round picks (2019-2025)
  • Own all future second-round picks (2019-2025)
  • Cash to be sent out: $5.2 million

Tradable contracts

1. DeMar DeRozan: $27.7 million; under contract through 2020-21 (player option in 2020-21)

2.The young core (ranked by trade value of each player):

  • OG Anunoby: $2.0 million; under contract through 2020-21
  • Delon Wright: $2.5 million; under contract through 2018-19
  • Pascal Siakam: $1.5 million; under contract through 2019-20
  • Jakob Poeltl: $2.9 million; under contract through 2019-20
  • Malachi Richardson: $1.6 million; under contract through 2019-20

3.Kyle Lowry: $31.2 million; under contract through 2019-20

4.Serge Ibaka: $21.6 million; under contract through 2019-20

5.Norman Powell: $9.4 million; under contract through 2021-22

6.Jonas Valanciunas: $16.5 million; under contract through 2019-20 (player option)

7.CJ Miles: $8.3 million; under contract through 2019-20 (player option)

Complicating factors

  • Selling more than a one-year rental for Kawhi. Difficult for the Spurs to acquire more of the Raptors' young core or better picks given their lack of leverage.
  • Trading an All-Star in DeRozan with three years left on his deal vs. Leonard's expiring contract.
  • What is Plan B if Leonard leaves? Toronto will stay competitive in 2019-20 and rebuild the following year. The Raptors still will have $102 million in committed team salary if Leonard walks in free agency, but only Powell ($10.8 million) and Anunoby ($3.9 million team option) are under contract for 2020-21.

The Celtics remained patient

Give Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge credit for sticking to his principles.

Known for showing restraint since the Celtics' rebuild started in 2013, Ainge could have tinkered with the core players on the roster -- namely Jaylen Brown at the chance of acquiring an All-NBA player in Leonard.

The risk? Trading someone with Brown's upside on a rookie-scale contract for a player who could leave in 2019 as a free agent.

Remove the core players and despite a bevy of draft assets, the Celtics' roster of tradable contracts featured role players and not top-line starters.

Off the table: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Brad Wanamaker (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Aron Baynes (Dec. 15 trade restriction) and Robert Williams (Aug. 4 trade restriction)

Draft assets

  • Own all first-round picks (2019 through 2025)
  • The better of Sacramento or Philadelphia's 2019 first-round pick (protected No. 1)
  • Memphis' 2019 first-round pick (protected Nos. 1-8, Nos. 1-6 in 2020 and unprotected in 2021)
  • Clippers' 2019 first-round pick (protected Nos. 1-14 until 2020, will turn into a 2022 second if not conveyed).
  • Second-round picks: 2020-2025
  • Cash: $5.2 million to send out

Tradable contracts

1.Marcus Morris: $5.4 million; free agent in 2019

2.Terry Rozier: $3.1 million; restricted free agent in 2019

3.Marcus Smart: Sign-and-trade option

4.Guerschon Yabusele: $2.7 million; under contract through 2020-21

5.Daniel Theis: $1.4 million; restricted free agent in 2019

6.Semi Ojeleye: $1.4 million; under contract through 2020-21

7.Abdel Nader: $1.4 million; under contract through 2020-21 (trade value is $905K)

Complicating factors

  • Making the money work if Irving, Hayward or Horford are not involved.
  • The Celtics would have needed to include Smart in a sign-and-trade along with Rozier, Morris and Yabusele to match salaries. There was no incentive for the Spurs to take back Smart on a contract that starts at $12 million per year.
  • The cost in 2019: Irving and Leonard are free agents and could command contracts of five years, $190 million.
  • The Celtics would have more than $120 million committed to four players (Irving, Leonard, Horford and Hayward). Plus, Brown is rookie extension eligible next summer.
  • Would Irving have made a long-term commitment to San Antonio if the point guard was involved in trade talks?

The Sixers: Draft assets and role players

Sometimes to acquire an All-NBA level player -- albeit one on an expiring contract coming off an injury -- you have to push your chips to the middle of the table. The one chip that the Sixers kept in their pocket was former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.

While Philadelphia certainly had the draft assets to get a Kawhi trade done, namely the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first-rounder, the roster for the 76ers featured a mixed bag of expiring contracts and role players.

What was off the table:Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, JJ Redick (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Amir Johnson (Dec. 15 trade restriction), Zhaire Smith (Aug. 1 trade restriction) and Landry Shamet (Aug. 3 trade restriction).

Draft assets:

  • Own all first-round picks (2019 to 2025)
  • Miami's 2021 unprotected first-round pick
  • Second-round picks: 10 in the next three seasons
  • Cash: $5.2 million to send out
  • Rights to: Shake Milton (2018, second), Anzejs Pasecniks (2017, first) and Jonah Bolden (2017, second)

Tradable contracts:

1.Robert Covington: $10.5 million; under contract through 2021-22

2.Dario Saric: $2.5 million; under contract through 2019-20 (extension eligible starting in July 2019 and a restricted free agent in 2020)

3.Wilson Chandler: $12.8 million; expiring contract

4.Jerryd Bayless: $8.6 million; expiring contract

5.Justin Anderson: $2.5 million; expiring contract

6.The former first-round picks: Furkan Korkmaz and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot

Complicating factors

  • How confident could Philly be that Leonard would commit long term?
  • The Sixers have the opportunity to sign Leonard -- or a similar player in a strong 2019 free-agent class -- using cap space without sacrificing current players or picks.

Why the Lakers can wait

Three major factors contributed to a Lakers deal not materializing.

The Luol Deng contract

Deng is owed $37 million over the next two years. The asking price around the league is two first-round picks to take back his remaining salary. The Lakers possibly could have moved the Deng contract to a third team like Sacramento with draft assets, but Los Angeles would not have any firsts left to send to San Antonio.

Making the salaries work

Remove Deng from any trade package and the Lakers were limited in the amount of salary they could send out in a deal, since the free agents signed this offseason cannot be moved until Dec. 15.

To take back the $20.1 million owed to Leonard (who would need to waive his $3 million trade bonus), the Lakers had to send back $16.1 million in salary.

That would have required clearing the deck and trading at least four of the below players, including both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram:

Incentive to wait until free agency

The Lakers are in a position to have between $36 and $43 million in salary-cap space next summer, which is good enough to sign Leonard outright without gutting their roster in a midseason trade.

Despite Paul George returning to the Oklahoma City Thunder when the Lakers could have acquired the All-Star in a trade last year, the presence of LeBron James should be a good enough sales pitch to lure a second star from the 2019 class to L.A., whether that's Leonard or someone else. Also, don't forget that James committed to the Lakers for at least three years and there is no rush for them to cash in their assets right now.

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