And so begins life after Paul George. What had been a year or two in the making finally occurred over the summer, as George was sent to Oklahoma City Thunder for the uninspiring return of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Now, the Pacers look to recover, somehow avoiding a complete rebuild in the process. This probably isn’t going to be a fun year, but Indiana’s rebuild isn’t the most depressing in the Eastern Conference by a long shot. There are some things to like here, and this will be the season when they cultivate the beginning of the organization’s next chapter.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
Let’s start by admitting right out in the open that the Oklahoma City Thunder won the Paul George trade by a wide, wide margin, and then let’s use that as fodder to predict that the Pacers probably are due for a step back this season. Bringing Victor Oladipo back to Indiana is a fun narrative, and Myles Turner has the look of an All-Star, but outside of that it’s hard to know who the real players are on this team. I love Lance Stephenson, but it’s horrifying that he’ll be asked to play a leadership role on the team this year, and the rest of the roster is filled mostly with replacement-level guys. They will be worse than last year but perhaps better than many people expect. At least the new uniforms are fire, right?
4th Place — Central Division
— Joel Brigham
Everything for Indiana starts with the Paul George trade. Simply put, the Oklahoma City Thunder won that trade – regardless of the fact that George could walk away for nothing after this season. The Pacers took on Victor Oladipo’s bloated contract, did not get any draft picks and actually take on money in the deal. It’s one thing if the rest of the league made no offers on George. However, we know that there were other bids for George’s services, which makes this deal so puzzling. With a roster featuring Oladipo, young stud Myles Turner and a list of mostly replacement level players, it’s hard to see this team making much noise even in the weak Eastern Conference. There’s more that can be said about Indiana, but it’s hard to get much further than the lopsided deal that sent George to Oklahoma City.
4th Place — Central Division
— Jesse Blancarte
Much like their in-conference contemporary in Chicago, the Indiana Pacers lost most of their firepower from last season as well.
Heading into this year, the Pacers will be without Paul George and Jeff Teague, as both players made their trek into the Western Conference. As a result, Indiana has been left to switch immediately from postseason appearance to rebuild mode.
By securing Victor Oladipo, an Indiana State legend from his college time with the Hoosiers, in the George trade, the Pacers at least have some type of marketing ploy at their disposal. But past that and the continued emergence of young big man Myles Turner, next season looks pretty bleak for Indiana.
At least from the looks of it, the Pacers will have a decent draft pick in what projects to be a deep lottery crop next June.
4th place — Central Division
— Dennis Chambers
Life in the post-Paul George era certainly won’t be quite as exciting for the Pacers, at least not to get started. This team won’t be good enough to challenge for anything real in the East, and that’s put them in a slightly tough position: Their best team-building avenue might be to simply bottom out completely and shoot for a high draft pick, but they might have just enough talent on the roster to make this difficult. Guys like Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph and Thaddeus Young aren’t anyone’s idea of a contender, but they’re good enough to get you some wins in this awful conference. Combine that with some possible improvement from youngsters Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and securing a high lottery slot might not be so easy. Turner remains key here – his development should take priority over virtually any standings-related questions this year. Beyond that, we’ll see whether this Pacers team is taking a shot at the eight seed come trade deadline time, or whether they’re considering a fire sale and a full tank.
4th place — Central Division
— Ben Dowsett
Now begins life without Paul George.
On paper, the Pacers are a team that is full of complementary pieces, but one that’s devoid of one that’s capable of leading the pack. I count eight players on the roster that I like as individual contributors, but aside from Myles Turner, I’m not sure who (if anyone) has the potential to be a truly impactful player on his own. Through the early years of his career, Victor Oladipo has had some high moments, but he’s already been traded twice. To me, that means he failed to convince two separate franchises that he has “it.”
In the end, I expect this coming season to be a very long one in Indianapolis. You simply don’t trade a superstar like Paul George and get any better for it, and you especially don’t become any better for it by trading him for Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers simply become another example of life coming at you fast in the league, especially for small market teams. If you stumble across a superstar, you have a short window to build his team into a perennial contender. If you fail and he skates town, you start all over. Unfortunately, the Pacers ran into Miami’s dynasty and saw the clock strike midnight.
4th place — Central Division
— Moke Hamilton
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Victor Oladipo
Let’s start by just pointing out the obvious here; Indiana lost a ton of scoring in their offseason overhaul. Between Paul George, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis and C.J. Miles, Indiana is suddenly missing over 58 points per game which have not been replaced by the players they’ve brought in. Myles Turner, who averaged 14.5 points per game last season, should be a focus for the team offensively this year, but Oladipo is the player with best opportunity to average 20 points per game. He’s never done that, of course, but he’s come reasonably close. With years of experience and a bigger offensive role than he’s ever had, Oladipo appears to have the best opportunity to shine.
Top Defensive Player: Myles Turner
After averaging 2.1 blocks per game in just 31.4 minutes last year, Turner seems likely to be among the league leaders in that category this upcoming season as those minutes ultimately rise. Manning the middle last year, Turner allowed just 0.867 points per possession, which is a testament to just how effective he was as just a second-year player on a middling team. He’s quick for a guy his size, and his height, length and athleticism make him a nightmare for opposing players trying to score. In fact, opponents shot 8.4 percent below their season averages when he was the closest defender within six feet of the basket. He’s elite defensively, and should be even better (and stronger) this season.
Top Playmaker: Darren Collison
Collison has never averaged fewer than 10 points per game in his entire career, and only has failed to average four assists per game just once, making him the model of consistency on the offensive end in what will be his second stint with the Indiana Pacers this year. As the Jeff Teague replacement, he will be asked to do a lot of the same things (but for a lot less money), which will include splitting open defenses and finding open shooters. Even with fewer three-point marksmen on the roster this season, Indiana’s new starting point guard should still end up in the neighborhood of four to six assists per contest, easily the best of anybody on this Pacers team.
Top Clutch Player: Victor Oladipo
In April of last season, when Russell Westbrook had finally broken the triple-double record and took a night off ahead of the playoffs, the Thunder found themselves entrenched in a tight game with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Westbrook out of the game, Oladipo took the go-ahead shot with just a few seconds left in the game, and he sank it to seal the victory for OKC. After the game, Billy Donovan said, “I think Victor’s proven in his time being a young player that he’s a guy who’s not afraid of taking a big shot,” and while he’s playing for a new coach, if any big shots come up this year, expect Oladipo to be the one who takes them.
The Unheralded Player: Glenn Robinson III
Last year’s Dunk Contest champ is a lot more than just a leaper, as he proved in inconsistent minutes last year, despite 27 starts. He was incredibly up-and-down offensively all season, but flashed some really interesting moments late in the season, including a game-winning shot and a 20-point outing. Defensively, he’s quite good at forcing turnovers and is a good rebounder at the three spot on the floor, and all of this should come into light as he contends for the starting small forward spot this season. Bojan Bogdanovic is a shiny new toy that flashed bigger stats in Brooklyn and Washington last season, but Robinson is quietly a slightly better all-around player. Hopefully he gets the consistent minutes to prove it this year.
Best New Addition: Victor Oladipo
He better be, anyway. He was the reason Indiana felt better about Oklahoma City’s trade offer than any offer that might have included a draft pick, so for better or worse, Oladipo is the future in Indiana, along with Myles Turner. If he ends up falling flat in this opportunity to get huge usage, the George trade will look worse than it already does.
— Joel Brigham
WHO WE LIKE
1. Lance Stephenson:
Something about Indianapolis brings out the best in Stephenson, who got his groove back to a certain extent after rejoining the team last season. The fans have embraced him—there’s even going to be a “Born Ready Crew” fan zone at the Fieldhouse this year, named after Stephenson’s rap moniker—and he’s talking like a leader already this summer. Indy will need some measure of leadership from him this season, so hopefully he’s got it in him. If nothing else, Stephenson is far and away the team’s most entertaining personality.
2. Bojan Bogdanovic:
It seemed like in every EuroBasket game Bogdanovic played this summer, he’d be Croatia’s top scorer with somewhere between 20-25 points per game. He’s not going to pour in numbers like that with the Pacers, but considering how much offensive firepower departed this roster in the offseason, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to be among the team’s leading scorers. Indiana lost a lot of three-point shooting over the summer, too, and that’s another area where Bogdanovic will be useful. In short, the Pacers needed someone exactly like him to fill out this roster, and it’s hard to imagine him not squeezing into the role set out for him.
3. Cory Joseph:
An ideal fit in Kevin Pritchard’s pseudo-rebuild, Joseph is coming off a strong year in Toronto in which he averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists, meaning he should slot nicely right behind Collison in the point guard rotation. He’s only 25 years old, so there could be even better years ahead. Between his time in San Antonio and Toronto, he’s got quite a bit of playoff experience for a kid his age, which should be a welcome addition to a team that doesn’t have a whole lot of that in its clubhouse.
4. Domantas Sabonis:
As the other piece in the Paul George trade, Sabonis’ development as a second-year player will speak volumes about how Pritchard did in moving his former team cornerstone. Last season Sabonis shot 46 percent from three, but his bread and butter typically comes in closer to the basket, where his post moves are slippery enough to get the better of bigger, bulkier fives. He should back up Turner and get more of an opportunity to succeed playing on the receiving end of pick-and-roll plays that don’t involve Russell Westbrook. His defense and fouling need to come down to earth, but offensively he’s got a bright future.
— Joel Brigham
SALARY CAP 101
The Pacers are under the NBA’s $99.1 million salary cap by as much as $7.6 million, even after signing Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison (not to mention their blockbuster trade of Paul George to bring in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). Indiana also has their $4.3 million Room Exception.
Assuming the team picks up Sabonis’ team option for the 2018-19 season before November, the Pacers could have roughly $36 million in space next summer under a $102 million cap. That partially relies on Thaddeus Young ($13.8 million) and Cory Joseph ($7.9 million) opting out. Also, Al Jefferson, Bogdanovic and Collison each have partially-guaranteed deals for 2018-19; Lance Stephenson has a team option. The Pacers have valuable contract flexibility as the work through a rebuild in the post-George era.
— Eric Pincus
Nothing stands out. The team was top-ten defensively last year, but not only did they lose an elite perimeter defender in Paul George, they also added two brutal defensive players in Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison. Turner anchoring the defense will help, but chances are pretty good that this team will be in the middle of the road pretty much across the board this year. They are relatively young and athletic, which is a good thing, but statistically it’s hard to envision them overachieving.
— Joel Brigham
Scoring is going to be the biggest problem this season. The Pacers were smack-dab in the middle of the league last season in terms of points scored per game, but that’s likely to take a hit with so many of the team’s top scorers gone in favor of lesser-scoring counterparts. It’s asking a lot for the offense to improve with worse offensive player, which places them squarely in the bottom half of the league in terms of scoring. Unless the defense is great, Indiana is going to get outscored a lot this season.
— Joel Brigham
THE BURNING QUESTION
What does life after Paul George look like, exactly?
From an aesthetic standpoint, we know it looks really, really different, thanks in large part to Nike’s radical redesign of the uniform sets. On the court, though, it’s hard to know how well (or perhaps how poorly) the team pops back up after the Paul George fiasco this summer. We expect a huge jump from Myles Turner, but we don’t yet know if he’s capable of shouldering a franchise. We expect Oladipo to make a leap, too, and if both players can do it, the playoffs are more than just a pipe dream for Indiana. If the Pacers underperform, though, they’ll wish they had gotten some draft picks in that George trade.
— Joel Brigham
NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense
In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.
The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.
Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).
While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.
After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.
On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.
At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.
Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.
On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.
DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.
From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.
Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.
Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.
All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.
NBA Daily: Wizards Put Wild In “Wild Card”
The Wizards’ reputation as an enigma, combined with their most recent moves could make their team a contender just as much as it could make them a trainwreck.
The Wizards were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons last year.
Being hamstrung by injuries, most notably by John Wall who missed half the season, Washington took an egregious step back in 2018. The team still made the playoffs, and they even gave Toronto a competitive series in the first round. Alas, the headline of their story surrounding them was their inner dysfunction.
To be clear, there had already been reports of contention, specifically between Wall and Bradley Beal, prior to this season, but more and more reports of hostility in the locker room leaked out as the season progressed.
With Wall nursing an injury mid-season, Marcin Gortat praised the team for how they won without its star point guard.
Unbelievable win tonight ! Great "team" victory!
— Marcin Gortat🇵🇱 (@MGortat) February 2, 2018
Wall did not take too kindly to Gortat’s words, as he said Gortat was “spoon-fed buckets.” The two made up, but that wasn’t the only instance. Following a fight he had with Wall, Dallas Mavericks guard Jose Juan Barea went on record stating that he thought fellow Wizards didn’t like their franchise player.
These were the most prevalent of several incidents that indicated that things weren’t running smoothly with D.C.’s basketball team. Once Wall stated that the team needed upgrades following their playoff elimintation, it was clear some changes were in order.
Since the off-season has commenced, the Wizards have made said changes. The real question is, will these changes cease the flames or merely fan them?
First, they traded Gortat for Austin Rivers. The motive was obvious for this deal. If they hadn’t done so already, Gortat and Wall were one more squabble from going at each other’s throats, so it was one or the other between the two of them. With Gortat on the downside of his career and Wall being one of the league’s top point guards in the prime of his career, it was clear that Gortat was the odd man out.
Then there’s who the return that the Wiz received for Gortat. For years, Washington has searched for years to find that third guard to spell their elite backcourt. From Martell Webster to Garrett Temple to Brandon Jennings to Tim Frazier, the Wizards have auditioned various players to fill in the role as their first guard off the bench to no avail.
Now, they may have very well found the perfect man for the job in Austin Rivers.
Laugh all you want. Adding Rivers could pay huge dividends for the Wizards. It is true that Rivers has developed a bad reputation since joining. He’s a punk. He’s a bust. He’s a daddy’s boy. Rivers deserves most of the labels he’s been given, but the one label he doesn’t deserve is scrub.
Rivers’ improvement since joining his father in Hollywood has fallen under the radar because he has become, as I like to call it, one of the most “over-hated” players in the league. Since joining the Clippers in 2015, Rivers has gradually seen both his scoring and assist average double, as he posted career-highs in both categories this season – 15.1 points a game and 4.0 assists a game – while also shooting a career-high 37.8 percent from three. Those numbers should make Wizards fans excited that he’s going be the team’s third guard.
The concerns with Rivers are very real, but his skill set makes him the guy the Wizards have been looking for. On paper at least.
Then, there’s Jeff Green.
You know how they say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again?” Well with Jeff Green, it’s, “If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards.”
For years, Jeff Green has managed to consistently disappoint no matter how low the expectations go for him despite his obvious talent. The bar for Green was at the absolute lowest this season as the Cavs wanted him as a backup wing and nothing else, to which Jeff passed with flying colors, if not more so.
Much to the chagrin of any Celtics, Grizzlies, or Clippers fan who rooted for the guy, Jeff came through for the Cavs when they needed him to. With Cleveland down 3-2 to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals and Kevin Love out with a concussion, Jeff stepped it up. Averaging 16.5 points on 46 percent shooting and averaging 5.5 rebounds, Jeff played a huge hand in dealing the final blow to his former team’s season.
The lesson to take from all this is that Jeff Green can succeed when little is expected of him. The lower the bar, the happier you’ll be with him. Coming to Washington, Green’s not expected to be any more than Mike Scott’s replacement, so Washington should get its money’s worth. On paper at least.
Finally, of course, there’s Dwight Howard.
I’ve already written about Howard’s career tailspin in the last half-decade, so there’s no need to bring that up again. Instead, let’s focus on who Dwight is as a player currently.
By all means, Dwight should give Washington quite the boost. Regardless of how far he’s fallen, Dwight is still an impactful player, and the numbers speak for themselves. While other parts of his game have fallen, Howard’s presence on the boards is still as strong as ever.
Before acquiring Dwight, Charlotte ranked 16th in the NBA in total rebound averages with 43.6 a game in 2017, but after bringing him in, the Hornets rose all the way to third this season with 45.5. Atlanta, who had previously employed Dwight in 2017, ranked ninth in the league with 44.3 rebounds a game but dropped all the way to 25th this season with 41.9 after trading him.
The Wiz have had severe struggles punding the glass over the last three years, as detailed below.
2017-2018: 43.1 rebounds a game (ranked no. 21)
2016-2017: 42.9 rebounds a game (ranked no. 22)
2015-2016: 41.8 rebounds a game (ranked no. 26)
So they should be thrilled to have Howard aboard.
Howard is also still a quality athlete even if he’s not the basketball goliath he once was. In Charlotte, he had his best statistical season since his first year in Houston, so there’s plenty of good basketball left in him. Given that he signed for just the mid-level exception, he should be a smart investment.
On paper at least.
Howard should be a fantastic fit in Washington should he fall in line, but history shows that he’s incapable of doing that. Howard’s skills still fit in well with the NBA, but he’s shown that he only plays by his rules, which has led to him being thrown out of every situation he’s been in. For both him and Washington, this is probably their last chance.
Talent-wise, the Wizards have what it takes to compete with the best in the east with their new additions. They added a more-than-qualified third guard that they’ve desperately needed, they added a solid backup wing, and they upgraded at center. However, their perplexing history since their surprise playoff run in 2014 makes it hard to know what their ceiling truly is. See for yourself.
2015: An injured John Wall and an Al Horford buzzer beater stopped them from making the conference finals
2016: Missed the playoffs
2017: A Kelly Olynyk performance of a lifetime stopped them from making the conference finals
2018: They got ousted in the first round as an eighth seed in a throw-away season
There aren’t that many teams who have been as enigmatic over the last four years as Washington has. They are as talented as they are egotistical. They’ve shown that they can play some beautiful basketball together and they’ve shown that they can tear each other apart. Adding Rivers, Green, and Howard, three serviceable players (at the very least), is sensible since depth has also been one of their biggest holes.
But there’s a reason why Austin Rivers isn’t very well-liked around the league. There’s a reason why Jeff Green has bounced around like a hot potato in the last three and a half years. There’s a reason why every team that’s employed Dwight Howard has happily waved bye-bye when they shipped him out of town.
The Wizards are not a lock to make a run after the moves they’ve made. But, given the state that they were in coming into this summer, they’ve done about as well as they could have reasonably expected.
NBA Daily: What Is The Hurry To Deal Leonard?
The San Antonio Spurs don’t seem any closer to a Kawhi Leonard trade than they were in mid-June. The real question is, what is the rush to make a deal?
What’s The Hurry?
The San Antonio Spurs and disgruntled forward Kawhi Leonard don’t seem any closer to a resolution today than they were back in mid-June when ESPN’s Chris Haynes dropped the bomb that Leonard no longer trusted the Spurs and wanted out.
While it seems fairly clear that Leonard is going to be dealt, the artificial sense of urgency from the outside doesn’t seem to be bothering the Spurs, as word in NBA circles is they continue to listen to offers but don’t seem anywhere close to making a decision. That can always change.
There are a few things that have started to leak out about the situation worth talking about, and some of it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Kawhi Wants His Own Team
It is a common belief among fans that players should covet the chance to compete for a championship even if it means checking their own egos at the door. What’s become clear in this Leonard saga is that he has way more ego and bigger individual goals than anyone might have thought a year ago.
According to a source close to Leonard for a number of years, Leonard has always coveted his own team. He wants the chance to be the focal point on a group built around him. The idea that Leonard would openly welcome being second or third fiddle seemed unlikely to this source, which brings into question how seriously Leonard would pursue the chance to play with LeBron James in LA as a Laker.
There have been reports already suggesting that Leonard may not want the sidekick role with the Lakers, and that seems to line up with things sources were saying in Las Vegas last week.
If Leonard truly doesn’t want to share the spotlight with a bigger star, that could make this whole process a lot more interesting.
Kawhi Is Leaving A Lot of Guaranteed Money
Leonard became extension-eligible yesterday, reaching the third-year anniversary of his current contract. Because Leonard has made All-NBA in two of the past three seasons, he became eligible for what’s been commonly dubbed the “Supermax” contract extension, which would allow him to jump into the 35 percent of the salary cap max contract tier.
Based on the current cap, that extension could be worth as much as $221 million if he signs this summer. That money is only available to Leonard if he stays with the Spurs and gives him almost $30 million more money than he could receive becoming a free agent in July, even if he is traded to a new team that could obtain his Bird Rights.
While some have suggested that Leonard could make up some of that money being in a bigger market, it’s hard to imagine that he’s gaining $30 million more than his current marketing value, especially given his reclusive personality.
If by some miracle the Spurs and Leonard do reach an extension agreement, he would be untradable for one year from the date of his extension, so the idea of giving it one more year in order to salvage the contract money isn’t out of the question. The question becomes, would the Spurs do it without a full-throated pledged to be a Spur for the duration of the deal?
Lakers And Sixers Seem To Have Lost Interest
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, on a recent ESPN podcast, suggested that the Lakers and the Sixers may have taken themselves out of the race for Leonard after making what most insiders believe was their best efforts to secure Leonard in trade. According to sources near both situations, the Spurs simply listened and didn’t really openly engage in negotiations sort of ended things where they started.
That’s not to say either team couldn’t jump back into the fray; there is a sense in NBA circles that the Lakers simply won’t give away the farm for Leonard, knowing they could be the favorite to sign him outright next July, so why give up too much?
The 76ers pursuit of Leonard was more about going all in, but only to a point. The 76ers were said to be reluctant to include Markell Fultz in a deal for Leonard, and that they were equally unwilling to let trade talks derail their upcoming season.
Are The Raptors The front Runners?
In the same podcast, Windhorst suggested that with the Lakers and Sixers likely bowing out, the Toronto Raptors may have jumped into the driver’s seat on a Leonard trade.
That would line up with the notion of the Raptors wanting to do something aggressive to better match up with Boston, and potentially clear some cap space should it not work out. It’s unclear exactly what the Raptors would be offering San Antonio to cement a deal, but they have no shortage of young promising players and a few proven All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry that could be the centerpiece of a deal.
League sources said as many as eight teams started doing due diligence on Leonard after the NBA draft, and there was a growing sense that teams other than the Lakers were willing to pony up for a shot at Leonard, even in a rental.
The hope on a Leonard trade is similar to what played out in Oklahoma City with Paul George: that Leonard lands in a new environment and falls in love with the situation enough to commit long-term. There is clearly a risk in that thinking, but it seems several teams were at least open to the idea.
Training Camp Is The Real Deadline
While most of the basketball world has “Kawhi Fatigue” and simply wants it over already, the truth is the Spurs have a much longer runway.
The next milestone opens next week when Team USA opens mini-camp in Las Vegas. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is set to coach the men’s Senior Nation Team, and Leonard is among the 35 players selected to compete for a shot at the 2020 Olympic squad.
There has been talk that Leonard may opt not to attend until his situation is resolved, which would make the optics of the situation that much worse. There are many in the NBA that believe the Spurs are waiting to see if time together in Las Vegas might bridge the gaps between Popovich and Leonard, so how both handle the Team USA camp is worth watching.
While the outcome of a few days in Las Vegas likely won’t seal a deal, either way, the real window for a deal is the week of training camp in late September. That’s when things will start to get ugly and real for both the Spurs and Leonard. Neither are going to want to open camp with this situation hanging over their heads, so that’s the real date to watch.
The New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony had a similar situation last year; it came to a resolution literally the day training camp opened, despite weeks and weeks of trade talks.
It may take exactly that long for the Spurs to finally agree to their own deal, so don’t expect closure quickly. There isn’t anything motivating a decision, beyond everyone being ready for it to be over already.
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