Let’s start by fast-forwarding 12 months into the future… One year from now, what’s the best-case scenario for the New York Knicks? Could they be 10 games better than they are this season? Could they be a few games above .500? Even under ideal circumstances, could they possibly be considered a championship contender?
Keep in mind: Not even including Carmelo Anthony, New York’s 2014-15 team salary will still exceed $70 million – including $49 million committed to the trio of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani for the 2014-15 season. Thus, Knicks GM Steve Mills will have very limited roster flexibility this summer. Because New York will be over the cap, they will not be able to reel in any significant free agents. They also don’t have either their first or second-round pick to improve the roster.
This is something Anthony will have to consider this summer when he has to make a life-altering decision in July. Will Anthony be willing to essentially sacrifice another year of his prime? Has the Knicks organization exhibited an ability to build a winner?
Looking at the big picture, are the Knicks completely convinced Anthony will be willing to commit to the Knicks long-term?
Of course, he’d have to be willing to leave $30 million on the table to play elsewhere, and the Knicks will have cap space to spend money in the summer of 2015.
Still, are the Knicks 100 percent sure that they can keep Carmelo? If they are not, they are taking a huge risk by not trading him prior to the February 20 trade deadline. Once that date passes, Anthony holds all the power. He will be the one making the important decisions.
Interestingly, as I have argued over the last couple of months, ‘Melo leaving the Knicks high-and-dry would not actually be the worst-case scenario. Considering all the long-term ramifications, committing $129.1 million to a 30-year-old Anthony might actually be the more detrimental outcome. The Knicks are 11 games under .500 with a healthy, in-his-prime Anthony playing at an incredibly high level. What happens as he ages and his skills deteriorate, while at the same time his salary escalates? Remember, if the Knicks max him out, ‘Melo will pocket a cool $29.1 million in 2018-19, when he’ll turn 34 years old.
Thus, there are multiple reasons to believe the Knicks should, at the very least, explore all options when it comes to trading away their best player.
Despite being fully aware that, in all likelihood, owner James Dolan won’t even consider trading away Anthony, last week I looked at a potential deal between the Knicks and Bulls that could possibly benefit both organizations.
Today, let’s get creative and examine a few other potential landing spots for Anthony that make sense for both the Knicks and their trading partner.
Knicks send: Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton and $2 million in cash
Suns send: Emeka Okafor, Goran Dragic, 2014 first-round draft pick, and a 2015 first-round pick
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: Dragic, who is playing incredibly well this season, would finally solve the Knicks gaping hole at point guard. Okafor’s value lies in the fact that his insured deal expires at the end of this season. The draft picks would obviously help re-stock the cupboard with top-tier rookies. Including Felton in the deal would wipe his salary off the books and increase the Knicks spending budget in the summer of 2015.
Why it makes sense for the Suns: Amazingly, Phoenix will have a total of six first-round picks in 2014 and 2015, including up to four selections in the first round of the loaded 2014 draft. Thus, they could be looking to package a couple of those picks for a player that will provide immediate benefit.
Furthermore, sitting 10 games above .500 with a 30-20 record, the Suns have been one of the NBA’s pleasant surprises this season. And it appears they unearthed a gem in Eric Bledsoe. As a result, there have been rumors they are willing to move Dragic in the right deal, as they are going to have to shell out major money in order to re-sign Bledsoe this summer.
If they traded for Anthony, they would secure his Bird Rights and could then pay him far more than any other team. In addition, they could surround him with a rising star in Bledsoe and a bevy of young, promising bigs: Markieff and Marcus Morris, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len. They will also have all those picks in a deep draft that could certainly supplement the depth on any roster. If the Suns are serious about making a major push towards legitimacy, they could do just that in one fell swoop.
Knicks send: Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith
Grizzlies send: Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis, Kosta Koufos and a future first-round pick
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: If the Knicks do actually seriously consider trading Anthony, one option to explore would be fully committing to a full, complete rebuild/overhaul. This is the type of trade that would allow the Knicks to hit the reset button, tear the whole thing down to the studs and start fresh on July 1, 2015. If New York was able to move ‘Melo, Smith and Felton, the Knicks would be looking at over $50 million in cap space in 2015. If the Knicks have the most cap space in the league heading into the summer of 2015 (All four Grizzlies coming over have two or less years left on their contracts), it could make for a very interesting offseason in NYC – especially considering the free agent class that year could include names such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan, etc.
If ‘Melo re-signs with the Knicks for the max this summer, he’ll be on the books for $24.1 million in 2015-16. Could that money and cap space be better spent on a pair of younger studs? Granted, relying on free agency is always a gamble, but so is guaranteeing a 30-year-old scorer $129 million through 2019.
It could certainly be argued that in the unlikely event that the Knicks do decide to move ‘Melo, this is the way to go. Blow the whole thing up and start from scratch. This type of deal gives Steve Mills and Jim Dolan maximum flexibility in 2015 (as opposed to be saddled with a maximum contract). Once ‘Melo is moved in this scenario, you try to trade Chandler and get back additional assets. In this particular situation, they would also look to quickly flip Randolph as well.
Why it works for Memphis: The Grizzlies were legit contenders for the crown last season, advancing all the way to the Western Conference Finals. They have struggled over the first half of this season, due largely to injuries, but are still in middle of the pack out West.
Adding a superstar such as Carmelo Anthony would obviously revive hopes and increase expectations in Memphis. Anthony, flanked by a healthy Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen would be a formidable and dangerous squad.
Knicks send: Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Cole Aldrich
Dallas sends: Shawn Marion, Shane Larkin, Brandan Wright, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo and two future first-round picks
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: Larkin, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft, is a young point guard with some promise, and is locked into a very cap-friendly rookie contract. Wright is a former lottery pick that has exhibited flashes of potential. Dalembert and Ellington’s deals expire in 2015. Ledo is raw but talented.
Why it makes sense for Dallas: We know Mark Cuban has money and that he isn’t afraid to spend it. Would be willing to give ‘Melo the max contract he’ll be looking for?
Having three potent scorers in Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Anthony on the floor together (with Jose Calderon facilitating the offense) would be fascinating to watch. Defense would obviously be an issue, but this team would be an awfully scary postseason opponent.
Knicks send: Carmelo Anthony, Beno Udrih, Kenyon Martin and Cole Aldrich
Wizards send: Marcin Gortat, Otto Porter Jr., Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, 2014 second-round pick and 2016 first-round pick
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: Otto Porter, the No. 3 overall pick last June, has not lived up to expectations during his rookie season, but showed during his collegiate career at Georgetown that he possesses a unique and enticing skill set. Vesely and Singleton have also disappointed during their career in the nation’s capital, but could their career’s be revived in NYC? Ariza has played well this season and has just one year left on his deal. The Wizards owe their 2014 first-rounder to the Suns (top-12 protected), so the earliest first rounder they could trade would be their 2016 pick.
Gortat is set to become a free agent after this season. If the Knicks didn’t view his as their “center of the future,” they could try to flip him in a convoluted three-way deal, in an attempt to acquire younger players or picks. However, from a New York perspective, this deal would primarily come down to how they felt about Porter.
Why it makes sense for the Wizards: Washington has finally climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement after spending seemingly an eternity below .500. They have their franchise point guard (John Wall) and shooting guard (Bradley Beal) in place. Bringing in a veteran superstar like Carmelo Anthony, could be the piece that transforms them into a real threat overnight.
Knicks send: Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin
Celtics send: Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and a 2014 first-round pick
Why it makes sense for the Knicks: Sullinger has been a beast in Boston of late, averaging 19.8 points and 12.8 rebounds per contest over the last three weeks. Olynyk has been inconsistent during his rookie campaign, but possesses the size and athleticism that scouts and coaches love. Both players are locked into extremely affordable rookie-scale contracts. Humphries has one year left on his deal, and Bass has two, so both will be off the books by 2015.
Why it makes sense for the Celtics: GM Danny Ainge has, on multiple occasions, adamantly attempted to squelch rumors that the Celtics intend to trade Rajon Rondo. A move like this would certainly send the message loud and clear that C’s have no interest in tanking or a long-term rebuilding project. We’d have to assume this would make Rondo happy, increasing the chances he agrees to a long-term deal with the Celtics.
Boston could have as many as five first-round picks over the next two seasons, so trading one away would not be crippling. It would be a major roll of the dice by Ainge and the Celtics; one that would cause a seismic shift in the Atlantic Division.
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.