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NBA PM: Bazemore Weighs Free Agency Options

Kent Bazemore is weighing all of his free agency options, including a potential return to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Alex Kennedy

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Brooklyn Nets big man Mason Plumlee talks about the drama surrounding Jason Kidd’s departure, playing for new head coach Lionel Hollins, participating in the Orlando Summer League and more.

Bazemore Weighs Free Agency Options

Some players enjoy going through free agency – being courted, hearing from multiple teams and weighing their options. Other players can’t stand the fact that their future is up in the air and they just want the process to end as soon as possible.

Unrestricted free agent Kent Bazemore, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, falls into the latter category. While his name has come up quite a bit in the early stages of free agency since he has received interest from 10 teams, he is just looking forward to signing his name on a dotted line and moving on with his NBA career.

“It’s really testing my patience; it’s been a little nerve-racking,” Bazemore told Basketball Insiders. “Everyone is trying to make room for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony so guys like myself, we have to wait patiently to see if they have enough room to even get us on the roster or offer us some money.”

While Bazemore is looking forward to ending this process, he does appreciate that so many teams have been in contact with his camp.

Bazemore has meetings scheduled with the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets, and has been contacted by the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors. Considering he knows what it’s like to be on the outside of the league looking in after being undrafted in 2012, he isn’t taking the interest for granted.

That’s been the thing that’s kept me from jumping off a bridge,” Bazemore said with a laugh. “It’s real gratifying. Being undrafted, making the summer league team and playing down in the D-League has actually paid off. The work I’ve put in on those levels – the D-League and summer league – has definitely opened a lot of teams’ eyes. It was an unfortunate situation for myself with Golden State, I did make the team, but they were so guard heavy. My first year with Jarrett Jack, Steph [Curry], Klay [Thompson], Harrison [Barnes] and even Draymond [Green] playing some three and then the next year they brought in Andre Iguodala, the minutes weren’t there. I was fortunate enough to go down to LA, where there were a lot of minutes out there on the floor and I was able to kind of show [what I can do]. All that I’ve been through has definitely paid off.”

In Los Angeles, Bazemore made the most of the opportunity he was given. He was acquired by L.A. at the trade deadline in exchange for Steve Blake, and thrived when given minutes. In 23 games, he averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. Prior to tearing a tendon in his right foot late in the season, he had emerged as a significant contributor for the Lakers.

The Lakers have met with Bazemore’s camp since free agency started and expressed some interest in re-signing him. When asked if he’d be open to returning to the Lakers, Bazemore didn’t hesitate.

Sure,” Bazemore said. “With Kobe [Bryant] coming back, one of the greatest players to ever touch the ball, I could learn a lot from him. That’d be great. I learned so much from Steve Nash and Pau Gasol last season, just being out there playing with them. If I made a mistake, they would be quick to pull me to the side and say, ‘Hey look, this is what you should of done’ or, ‘This what you should look for.’ Those guys have a track record where have played in the big games, they’ve been to the Finals, they’ve won championships, so it would be great to play with a guy like [Kobe], who is very demanding. A lot of people give Kobe a bad rap because he is very demanding, but with a guy like that, I’m all ears. This is a guy who knows how to win. He has a different method of getting his point across to you, but it’s within the context of the game, and I’ll do anything to get better. I’d love to return to that franchise, but we’ll see how things shake out.”

Bazemore speaks very highly about his time in Los Angeles, donning purple and gold.

“The swagger and the prestige of that franchise, that organization, speaks for itself,” Bazemore said. “They have the second-most championships in the NBA, all the greats on that wall in the back and then actually being able to share a locker room with my childhood favorite player Kobe Bryant, it was an amazing experience. To be able to run up and down with the Laker logo in the middle of floor, it was crazy. I remember staying up to 1 a.m. watching those games late at night on the East Coast as a kid. Then to actually be playing on that court, scoring baskets, it was [surreal]. It just so happened, my luck, that the first game we played was against the Celtics, one of the greatest rivalries of all-time, and I had a pretty good showing, so it was great.”

As Bazemore weighs all of his options, the most important factor to him is playing time. He wants to land in a situation where he’ll be able to receive significant minutes and be compensated at a fair rate based on the market.

“Right now, I still need to play,” Bazemore said. “I only played 23 games down there with heavy minutes for the Lakers; I only averaged like six minutes with the Warriors. My [sample] size is very small. I just need a chance to prove myself again, so minutes are definitely the first thing I’m after. Everything else is just basketball. You hear a lot of guys talking about the bad cities of the NBA and all of that, but a guy like me, I just want another opportunity to go out there and show that I can really be a great player in this league.

“For me, the biggest thing is we just want to have leverage. We want to make this team offer more than the last and see if the situation is going to be different as far as minutes. One team may be planning to give us a lot of minutes with less money and vice versa. You never know. My agent Austin Walton will gather everything, gather all the pros and cons for each team, which he is very good at, and we’ll sit down and figure it out. Like I said, the biggest thing for me right now is just being able to play. That definitely comes before everything else.”

In recent days, fellow free agent shooting guards like Jodie Meeks and C.J. Miles have received lucrative contracts, and Bazemore could be next in line to get paid. He has shown that he can be very productive when put on the floor, and he has a reputation around the league for being an excellent teammate and outstanding individual in the community. Every team could use a player like Bazemore, who is willing to do anything he can to help his team win when he’s on the court and completely supportive of his teammates.

“I bring energy, effort and I do all the things that other guys are hesitant to do like guard the best player, dive on the floor, all the little things,” Bazemore said. “I’m a great person in the community and I like to bring some fun to the games. I like to make it as fun as possible. I want the fans to get kind of a hands-on experience. I’m always out in the community, doing different stuff just so they can know me more. I want them to be like, ‘Hey, that’s my friend Kent’ instead of, ‘That’s No. 6 for the Lakers’ or whatever team I end up going to, so when good things happen to me they can feel a part of it. Community outreach is something I really hang my hat on.”

But for now, Bazemore waits. He has meetings with teams throughout this week, but he understands that he likely won’t be able to finalize an agreement until the big-name players like James and Anthony make their much-anticipated decisions.

The water stops running for a reason – they’re arguably the best players in the league and it’s a very big decision,” Bazemore said. “LeBron choosing so late last time, leaving Cleveland, I’m almost certain he didn’t take long on purpose – there’s just a lot of things that go into it. When you go to meet a team, I’m sure they show you who they’re going after and [the stars] can probably weigh in on who they want on their team, and it’s a lot of things that go into it. At the end of the day, when you do choose your team, you want the best thing for you. For me, it would be minutes. For LeBron, he wants to win a few more championships. It’s a lot of factors that go into it; they’re just taking their time. With things like that, they can’t make rash decisions or go through this quickly. I understand it.”

Even though Bazemore is receiving plenty of interest on the open market, he says the chip on his shoulder isn’t going anywhere after being overlooked for much of his life.

This is second nature to me,” Bazemore said. “Growing up, I wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school. When I got to college, I used to be the last person picked my red-shirt year; I went from the last person picked and then when I left I was the guy picking the teams. It’s always been a journey for me as far as proving people wrong and leap-frogging people every year. The NBA ranked players my first year in the league, and I was number 499. Then, I jumped 167 spots to 332. Things like that are what I really hold onto. I let my game do the talking. I could easily walk around and say, ‘Hey, I’m underrated and ya’ll think I’m sorry or ya’ll aren’t giving me the respect I deserve,’ but you just have to go out there and show people why you should be talked about as one of the best in the league. I just work hard and let everything else take care of itself.”

Bazemore has no timetable to make his free agency decision, but he’s looking forward to ending the process as soon as possible.

The Latest Free Agency News and Rumors

Today has been a busy day in the NBA, with a number of agreements surfacing.

Everyone is waiting to see what happens with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, but in the meantime a number of role players have agreed to contracts including Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger and Aaron Gray.

For all of the latest free agency news and rumors – on the stars and role players alike – be sure to check out Basketball Insiders’ free agency diary. We update it whenever something surfaces, so we’ll keep you connected throughout the NBA’s free agency period.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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.

Steve Kyler

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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.

Ben Nadeau

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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.”

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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.

Matt John

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“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.

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