by Matt George – Sports 1140 KHTK Reporter
As the 2018 NBA Draft gets closer and closer, with each passing day a new bombshell sets the NBA-world into a frenzy. Friday, we got this little gem:
Kawhi Leonard wants out from the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 15, 2018
Soon after, the Sacramento Kings’ mentions exploded:
Add the Kings to the list of teams expected to pursue Kawhi Leonard. No clarity on what they'd be willing to offer, but the notion of the No. 2 pick being on the table is a strong start.
— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 15, 2018
So, should Sacramento Kings General Manager Vlade Divac be working non-stop, trying to get a deal done, or should he even bother picking up the phone?
Kawhi Leonard’s Contract Situation
Leonard has been battling a strange quad injury that quickly led to a breaking of trust between Kawhi and the San Antonio Spurs training staff. Seemingly concerned that he would be prematurely cleared by the Spurs, willing to risk a more serious injury that could cost him significant money or even shorten his career, Leonard removed himself almost completely from his teammates and coaching staff, even going days without speaking with them.
As it stands, Leonard will be entering year four of a five-year, $94.3 million contract, with the 5th year being a player option. Should he stay with San Antonio, he would be eligible for the super max contract extension.
Kawhi Leonard isn't concerned about missing out on the supermax, sources tell ESPN. There's a feeling of betrayal that at this juncture, appears irreparable.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 15, 2018
Therefor, with full control of the final year of his current deal, Leonard holds a lot of power as to where he could end up. Sure, San Antonio could trade him anywhere they feel they could get the most in return, but a lot of trade partners will be cautious to send the truckload of assets necessary for a superstar that could leave after just one season.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
What It Would Take for Sacramento to Acquire Leonard
Contract situation aside, what realistically would the Sacramento Kings have to offer San Antonio to get them to part ways with their 26-year-old star? Sorry to burst the bubbles of a lot of hopeful Kings fans, but the 2nd overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft isn’t nearly enough.
The Kings developed a clear plan after trading all-star center DeMarcus Cousins during the 2016-2017 season, and have stuck to it so far. They have put together a young core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic that fans are hopeful can develop into a future playoff contending unit. Part of that core has got to go if the Kings have any chance at Leonard.
If Kawhi agreed to an extension or to re-sign, there shouldn’t be anything the Kings wouldn’t give up
— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 15, 2018
Bogdanovic is the name that makes the most sense for San Antonio to want back in the trade. A skilled guard that found a lot of success in the Euroleague before coming to the NBA before last season. Talk about a perfect fit alongside Manu Ginobili, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, and head coach Greg Popovich.
So send the 2nd pick and Bogdanovic to San Antonio. Still not enough.
Sports fans often result to the “what have you done for me lately” style of thinking, causing them to forget just how dominant Leonard was just over a season ago. Part of the group of players considered for MVP in the 2016-17 season, Leonard was averaging 25 points a game while shooting nearly 47% from the field. That season, he was also named to the All-NBA 1st team for the 2nd straight year and his 3rd straight All-Defensive 1st team.
If I’m San Antonio, I am asking for another piece of that young Kings core; most likely De’Aaron Fox to eventually take over for Tony Parker. That’s where it gets tricky, how much is Sacramento truly willing to give up for a disgruntled and potentially unhealthy superstar? They may be able to keep two thirds of that young core together, convincing San Antonio to take a Willie Cauley-Stein or Kosta Koufos instead of Fox, but that may not be enough to beat out other offers from other interested teams.
Why the Sacramento Kings Should Try to Acquire Leonard
Truth is, they shouldn’t. Simply put, it doesn’t make sense. Assuming all goes perfectly; the Kings manage to keep De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield in the trade, sign Leonard to a multi-year extension, and sign a middle-of-the-pack free agent like Julius Randle, Sacramento still is struggling to finish higher than 4th in the Western Conference.
That sounds like a massive improvement for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons, and it is, but a move like this suggests title contention. With the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets still expected to top an extremely competitive West.
The purpose of the plan after the DeMarcus Cousins trade was to build a young core through the draft and smart free agency signings that could develop together and be ready in a couple years to compete when the current juggernauts begin their decline. Throwing away that plan after just a year and a half for a win-now superstar that, most likely, wont be willing to re-sign is a one-way ticket to a long playoff-drought extension.
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful and well-run organizations in all of professional sports. They are in the Western Conference Finals conversation nearly every year with one of the greatest head coaches of all time. Amongst all of that success and prestige, Leonard was unhappy. What about the Sacramento Kings suggests that he would find happiness here?
Stick with the original plan, Kings. Even if you aren’t blown away by any one particular player in this year’s draft, there is a lot of talent to be had with the 2nd pick. Stay the course and allow other, bigger markets to mortgage their future.