A Few Names Need to Come Off the Board
The 2015-16 NBA trade deadline gets closer – 24 days and counting if you are keeping track at home. The trade market has been relatively quiet, and that does not look to be changing any time soon. However, with the lack of trade chatter around teams, fans eager to see movement have started flooding social media with speculation and trade combinations that are simply not based in reality. They also continue to include names that are not going anywhere.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
When Carmelo Anthony opted to stay in New York with the Knicks, one of the things his camp pushed for was a no-trade provision in his contract. Anthony wanted control of his future, and the Knicks were willing to give him that in exchange for his signature on a deal. As a result, the Knicks have zero influence on trading Anthony, and unless he made it clear he’d want a change, the Knicks can do very little about it going forward.
Knicks sources were adamant that there have been zero conversations internally about trying to convince Anthony to consider a trade, and that as things stand the Knicks are pleased with where they are with Anthony and with the emergence of rookie Kristaps Porzingis. There is a growing sense that adding the right point guard either in trade or in free agency could turn the team in the direction they want to go and that’s competing in the playoffs and maybe competing for a championship.
Anthony has a large number of the off-the-court business ventures in New York, and given how much his side pushed for the no-trade clause, no one in the equation believes Anthony would consider a trade. Until that changes, there is no point in even contemplating what Anthony could return in trade as he isn’t going to agree to a trade anyway.
That might change at some point in the future, but as things stand today Anthony is about as unobtainable as they come.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have won five straight games, seven of their last 10. So far in 2016, DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 32.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, logging arguably some of the best basketball of his career.
If that’s not enough reason for the Kings to laugh at incoming trade calls involving Cousins, let’s add this: Ownership, specifically majority owner Vivek Ranadive, has made it clear internally that Cousins is untouchable in trade.
As the Kings continue to move toward the opening of their new downtown arena the Golden 1 Center in October, Cousins is a central figure in their marketing and sales plans around the new building.
League sources continue to say that Kings president Vlade Divac shuts down conversations about Cousins at ‘hello,’ and that a Cousins deal is a complete non-starter in Sacramento.
Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
As much as Dwight Howard’s name was kicked around earlier in the season, league sources continue to say that Houston is not looking at Howard trades and that the odds of Howard being moved are so incredibly small it’s not worth exploring.
Let’s be clear if the Oklahoma City Thunder showed up with a Kevin Durant deal, the Rockets would move Howard in a heartbeat, but that deal is not coming and neither is a Howard trade.
The Rockets have known since the day they landed Howard that he would be a free agent this July, and they have been planning for a new contract for Howard since they acquired him. That does not mean the Rockets will give Howard the expected $30 million maximum salary that he is eligible to receive as a free agent, but the Rockets are prepared to do a new long-term deal with the big man this summer.
Trading Howard at this point is not in the plans. There is a risk that Howard could walk away for a more lucrative package elsewhere, but there continues to be a sense around the Rockets that Howard wants to remain a Rocket and that there is a deal to be reached in July.
Trading Howard now ensures the Rockets take a step backwards, and league sources say because of the huge financial commitment it will take to secure Howard in July, his value in trade is extremely low and that’s before you consider his team-high $22.359 million salary.
Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Like Howard, Al Horford will be an unrestricted free agent in July. Horford also becomes eligible for a salary starting at what could be north of $25 million per season, which becomes a tough decision for the Hawks.
As things stand today the Hawks are the four seed in the East, but not nearly the dominant and cohesive team they were this time last year. Horford is posting reasonably strong numbers this season, but is off his career averages in a pretty significant way, posting 14.4 points and 7.5 rebounds so far in 2016; not exactly max-contract type numbers.
Hawks sources found the notion of trading Horford laughable, pointing to how important he was to the team dynamic in Atlanta and that he’s a core guy in Mike Budenholzer’s system.
There is a sense among NBA insiders that a hefty offer could steal Horford away from the Hawks, especially if the team continues to regress from their record setting form from last season.
As things stand today, the Hawks have $52.717 million in 2016 salary cap commitments, which means they could have $38 million in useable cap space in July. Horford’s salary cap hold is $18 million, so the Hawks could have roughly $20 million in cap space to spend and then exceed the cap to retain Horford.
The question facing the Hawks is do they want to pay market value for a long-term max level contract with Horford in July? As things stand today, it seems the Hawks are staying to course with Horford and believing they have the means to retain him in July – making him a name you can take off the board.
While historically there have been some franchise-changing deadline deals, most of the deals that have gotten done over the last five years have been more cap management in nature. It’s possible a big-name player hits the trade market, but the general consensus from league sources is that if there are a flurry of deals, they will be smaller in nature and that the odds of a franchise-level player becoming available are fairly small.
It’s Not Us
If you watched the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls game on Saturday (and based on ratings many of you likely didn’t – 1.4 rating in adults 18-49 for 3.69 million viewers), during the second quarter ESPN commentators Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson took issue with the editorial coverage of fired Cavs coach David Blatt.
The jist of the rant was that unnamed sources are bad, and that when coaches get fired reports try to gain favor by blasting the outgoing coach.
“Nothing is more predictable than after a coach is fired that soon after, sportswriters who are trying to curry favor with those people and trying to gain more access and more information that they immediately attack that coach’s character and competence,” Van Gundy said.
If you have followed Van Gundy’s broadcasting career, he has made a big name for himself speaking outlandishly about subjects he knows very little about. Van Gundy is a heck of a basketball coach, but listening to him talk about subjects outside the realm of basketball coaching, he often makes comments that are at best half-baked and are usually massively uninformed. That’s his broadcasting shtick and it’s worked out well for him.
The point in this space is not to try and comment on the mindset of an individual writer or reporter, but to explain – as Van Gundy does about coaching – what really happens in the process.
Let’s start with sourced materials.
Every writer in the world would love to name their source. Doing so would end debate on the veracity of a news piece and close the door on any challengers to the material being discussed. The problem is it just does not work that way.
Let’s say for example that a writer prints, “LeBron James told me he wanted David Blatt fired.” What happens next?
James gets surrounded by reporters looking for a comment on his comment. Then there are reporters who will surround James looking for a comment on the comment about the comment and the next month is about a single statement.
People with information are usually willing to share it, if they don’t have to deal with the horde that follows.
What’s amusing about Van Gundy’s chastising of the media is as a head coach, he would often share his thoughts about things in an off-the-record setting, so it is curious to see him blasting a process he himself has been part of.
There are a large number of people who talk on what is called “background,” that’s non-sourceable material to help the writer understand the dynamics of something they are writing about.
As a writer, you sometimes need to have things explained to you so you get the details right and a large number of people in the decision-making process want the details right, without being a “character” in the story.
“Background” is where a lot of the inside politics come out. The writer is not having things explained to create gossip or to be a focal point of a story, but rather to help ensure that what’s being put out there is accurate.
There are two options for people with information. They can help shape the story or they can let the story run wild. Most understand that helping shape the story on background is better than getting hit with something that’s not accurate.
So let’s get to the rumor portion of the program.
By and large rumors, do not originate from the teams that are directly involved. That’s not to say it never happens, but for the most part rumors come from sources around the process, whether that be teams that are trying to get in on a deal, agents that have players in a deal or league sources that are talking to the people making the deals.
Most credible news outlets require two independent sources before they will allow someone to run a trade rumor. Over the last few years, that process has relaxed a lot in major media because rumors are fun and they draw fan attention and the mentality is, ‘In a page view world, what’s the harm if it’s coming from a credible place?’
Van Gundy and Jackson’s criticism of sourced materials is partly fair. It would be great if every writer could name the people they are talking to, but if that happened fewer and fewer people would talk. As a writer you have a choice: You can withhold the names and get the information, or you can print names and get no information.
It’s pretty safe to say that most people want the information, assuming it was gathered in a credible and responsible way and by and large that’s exactly what the bulk of writers do. There are always outliers, voices that have a track record of not being credible, but for the most part, especially as it pertains to the Cavaliers and David Blatt, the voices involved in explained the firing are as credible as they come, as informed as they come and as connected as they come.
There were no vendettas being settled and no agendas being served, and nothing said was done to curry favor. Sometimes what’s unflattering is what happened, and if you think about it, the Cavaliers paid David Blatt roughly $10 million to go away, while having the top record in the East coming off an NBA Finals appearance. Something like that does not happen without a lot of thought and some pretty serious issues that the team felt could not be resolved. That’s unflattering. That does not make it any less true, whether it was sourced or unsourced.
That’s simply the nature of the news business.
As they say, don’t hate the player, hate the game. If more people were willing to stand behind their words, more people would be quoted.
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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers
The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.
Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers
While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.
It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.
So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.
Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.
The Potential Future All-Stars
DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters
Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs
Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players
Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs
The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust
Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs
Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.
If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.
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NBA Daily: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years
CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.
Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.
Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.
Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.
But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.
Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.
After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.
From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.
“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.
“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”
Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.
Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.
The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.
But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.
“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.
“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”
And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.
Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.
“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”
The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.
To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.
Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.
But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.
“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”
It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.
“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”
Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.
“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”
In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.
If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.
“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”
But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.
Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.
“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.
“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”
Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?
Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.
And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.
“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.
“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”
NBA Daily: This Might Be the Spurs’ Final Stand
The bizarre Kawhi Leonard situation won’t resolve itself cleanly, which means the Spurs may have to pull the plug, writes Matt John.
“All good things must come to an end.” – Chaucer in 1374
If there is one team that has been the closest to replicating the Boston Celtics’ dynasty from the Bill Russell days, it has been the San Antonio Spurs. Over the past two decades, the Spurs have established a consistent model of winning thanks to Hall of Fame talent, legendary coaching and other-worldly scouting.
The only other team in the entire world of sports that has rivaled the Spurs’ prolonged success in the 21st century has been the New England Patriots. However, much like the Patriots, there have been more and more reports recently of dysfunction behind the scenes, with superstar Kawhi Leonard front and center to all of it. If things really are as bad as they appear to be, then Kawhi’s days as a Spur are numbered, and by the same token, so are the Spurs’ days of contention.
No one knows what exactly is going on with Leonard at the moment. There have been reports that, physically, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is fully capable of returning to the floor, but he chooses not to. Now, his rehab is expected to sideline him for the entirety of the playoffs. Leonard technically isn’t doing anything against the rules, but his actions have made both his team and the league take notice.
Leonard and the Spurs could hypothetically reconcile and put this all behind them, but given all that’s happened throughout the course of the season, that ship seems to have sailed a long time ago. Through the duration of the season, Kawhi’s teammates have called him out, his coach has been steadfastly candid when asked about what’s going on, and now, players around the league are already predicting who his next team will be.
This all spells out a potentially ugly divorce between the Spurs and their franchise player.
So, the Spurs’ obvious next move would be to trade Kawhi for as much value as they can get this off-season. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, the Spurs won’t be able to acquire nearly as much value for Kawhi now as they could have in years’ past. It is true that when Leonard is 100 percent healthy, he is one of the league’s best players. But this bizarre situation, along with his player option after next season, has demolished his trade value.
These days, teams don’t give up valuable assets for star players if there’s a risk that said star player could leave the team after only one year. Teams saw what happened to the Lakers after the Dwight Howard trade blew up in their face, and they saw how crippled the Nets became after they gave away the farm for Paul Pierce among other Celtics that they acquired. If a superstar whose contract is potentially expiring goes on the market, teams will lowball in trade discussions for him.
Case in point: last summer, pretty much everyone agreed that the Thunder acquired Paul George for peanuts when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That may have worked out for the best for Indiana, but that was sheer luck because Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ value was much lower than it is now. Kawhi could fetch a half decent player and maybe a late-lottery pick given his reputation, but that would probably not fill the large void that he would leave behind.
It’s for that reason that the Spurs’ reign may be coming to an end. If they trade Kawhi this summer, they’re not going to get equal value for him, which means they won’t be able to remain among the best in the Western Conference. It’s quite a shame, because Leonard’s apparent fall-out with the Spurs has overshadowed one of the better under-the-radar stories in the league: The Spurs’ perseverance.
The fact that the Spurs still made the playoffs in the Western Conference, which required 47 wins this season, is remarkable. Thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge’s rejuvenation, who has averaged his best numbers as a Spur this season by far, and Coach Pop’s brilliance among other reasons, the Spurs have kept the ball rolling without Kawhi. Alas, without him, the team is firmly not in the title discussion, and the Spurs can’t do much about it.
The Spurs could ride it out by keeping the rest of the core together along with what they would bring back for Leonard, but there wouldn’t be much point. Guys as impactful Leonard are not easily replaceable in this league, and the Spurs’ competition in the West will be as strong as ever next season. As unappealing as it might sound, the Spurs may have to just start over.
That wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Aldridge’s phenomenal season has probably skyrocketed his trade value, so the Spurs would get a good haul for him. The Spurs aren’t in a bad salary cap situation either. Besides Pau Gasol, the team doesn’t have any bad contracts. Tony Parker’s deal is up after this season while Rudy Gay and Danny Green have player options, but both are likely to opt-in given the lack of money on the open market this summer. The team even has some intriguing young talent, such as Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. Re-building wouldn’t be the worst option for San Antonio.
With all of that considered, it would still be very disappointing to see such a glorious era end so anticlimactically. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to lead the new era of Spurs basketball, but now it looks like he may be the Spurs’ undoing, which they may have no choice now but to accept.
Many were looking forward to San Antonio’s demise, but for a team that has remained in the title discussion since the days of President Clinton, the Spurs didn’t deserve an ending like this.