Roundtable: Reactions to Kawhi Leonard’s reported trade request

Kawhi Leonard

After a stream of recent speculation, it’s been reported that Kawhi Leonard is requesting a trade from the San Antonio Spurs.

Leonard played just nine games this past season due to a quad injury. The circumstances of his process for recovery enticed a tension between Leonard and the Spurs over the course of the season, bringing us to this current point where he is reportedly ready to part ways with the franchise. A few of our writers join a roundtable to share reactions to the situation.


  • Martin Soaries
  • DJ Allen
  • Evan Anderson
  • Felix John-Baptiste
  • Justin Kirkland

1. What do you make of this development of tension between Kawhi and the Spurs? How do you think we got here?

Soaries: The word “betrayal” has been used often by people reporting on the situation. I’m looking at the point during the season when Tony Parker made a comment about his quad injury being, “100 times worse” than Kawhi’s, saying he almost went for a second opinion but he trusted the Spurs medical staff.

From the outside looking in, maybe the Spurs didn’t feel Kawhi was truly ready, and he felt he was. Or the other way around. And he may have wanted an extra opinion to help validate his perspective on things.

Something about going outside of the Spurs for Kawhi’s medical advice and treatment created some tension. Maybe the communication about it didn’t feel genuine, and it’s seemed to just spiral into Kawhi feeling betrayed and ostracized in terms of their response to how he’s gone about his recovery.

Allen: I believe there was a loss of trust between the two parties. With the injury developing and two different stories coming from both sides, the trust just wasn’t there. To make it worst, the other players of the Spurs made comments that didn’t make the situation better. Similar to what Martin said about Parker’s comments, those are things that can’t be said when dealing with a situation this delicate. Danny Green tried to lighten the situation with his tweet, deflecting from the reported “players only meeting” but it was too late at that point.

Anderson: Ever since the injury, the Spurs and Kawhi have always had that disconnecting feel about each other. With all the signs and side drama this past season, I wasn’t too surprised at the newest breaking news. As the season went on, it didn’t help the situation with comments his teammates made regarding his reason of absence. It doesn’t sound normal for a team like San Antonio to have this type of issue with a superstar talent knowing their former seasons with superstars were long-term and successful. I’m not saying Leonard’s career for the Spurs was not successful, but obviously, something wasn’t clicking for him to stay.

John-Baptiste: All signs point to there being a disconnect about Kawhi’s injury. We heard Coach Pop say time and time again “Kawhi and his people” and that goes to show there were two trains of thought on that situation. It is shocking that it went this far because we’ve all come to know the Spurs as a high-class organization. No one is perfect, so I’ll chuck this up to that. However, with Pop seemingly unable to make amends even after the season, things must’ve really been that bad behind closed doors.

Kirkland: There is certainly something going on from the injury. In athletics, we promote toughness and playing through injury if at all possible. We celebrate guys who have played through broken ribs and delay surgeries to help their teams make playoff runs. When someone doesn’t do that and values their body/health/rest of their career more than the “lay your body on the line for the team” mentality it’s bound to ruffle a few feathers in the organization.

2. The Knicks and Lakers are said to be at the top of Leonard’s preferred destinations via trade. Is there a reasonable deal that either team can offer the Spurs?

Soaries: If they feel at all inclined to grant his wishes for a destination then the Lakers have more attractive young assets and draft picks to offer. The Knicks do have the no. 9 overall pick to dangle, but outside of Kristaps Porzingis himself, not much to offer in terms of attractive player assets.

Allen: There are a few situations that could play out with both teams. The Lakers have a ton of young players that I believe the Spurs wouldn’t mind taking on. We know recently it was said that the young players of Los Angeles were untouchable but when it comes to a talent like Leonard, I believe everything is available.

The situation is a little different for New York. I don’t think the assets are quite there. They do have a first-round draft pick but outside of that, I don’t see what they can offer. It’s safe to say they would want to keep Porzingis at all costs and try to combine the two but I don’t know if they have enough for San Antonio.

Anderson: The Knicks have an uninteresting group of guys around Porzingis that have clearly shown signs of the struggle these past few seasons. I don’t believe they have enough to offer to the Spurs without adding Porzingis in the deal, but the Knicks would benefit more from Leonard than the Lakers. The Lakers have a legitimate chance of landing Leonard, being the L.A native he is, but with a young core of players, they would have to deal a few. Most likely adding Luol Deng contract and Lonzo Ball, the Spurs would have to be hit with a blown away deal if they want Leonard.

John-Baptiste: For the Lakers, they have a couple of young promising players in Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram they can dangle around. They can also toss in Luol Deng’s deal. Not sure that’s enough to grab Kawhi but it’s more than the Knicks could offer. It’s tough to come up with a scenario where the Knicks can get Kawhi without giving up Kristaps Porzingis. Maybe they toss in some auxiliary pieces like Lance Thomas and Kyle O’Quinn and see how far that gets them. We’re not even going to address the 9th pick because that’s absolutely getting thrown into any deal.

Kirkland: I’m not sure how the Knicks make a play at all here. Their roster outside of Kristaps just is not attractive. The Lakers have more to offer but if I am the Spurs I 100% do not want Lonzo Ball. It would have to be Ingram and Kuzma and I’ll take that terrible Deng contract off of your hands. I’m not sure how willing Magic Johnson is to pull that trigger.

3. Where do you think would be the best place for Kawhi Leonard in terms of fit and function?

Soaries: In terms of their system and coaching, I’ve called the Celtics the new Spurs of the East. They develop, plug and play. Kawhi could easily fit there, as I think almost any decent basketball player could right now. But as far as function, Boston is already loaded with wings. At least one of them would definitely be included in a possible trade, but which one? Is Danny Ainge trying to keep Gordon Hayward and form an elite wing tandem along with Kawhi, making a dangerous big three along with Kyrie Irving? There’s a lot of inertia there.

Kawhi is the kind of player who can fit anywhere. He’d add to any team’s contender status. He makes Boston even scarier, Philly more legit, and make either LA franchise a playoff team.

Allen: I’ve been seeing the Boston Celtics floating around and that’s honestly where I could see him working best. We already know that Leonard is a system guy so being able to play within an offense is not a problem for him. In addition, you get a defensive staple to combine with some of the young talents that they already have. The thing that I question is how much would Boston have to give up to bring in a guy like Leonard. It would take a lot which makes you wonder is it even worth it especially if you have to question will he re-sign after a year.

Anderson: In terms of his fit and function, I would have to say the Sixers. Leonard has proved his presence in the league, capturing 2 DPOY Awards and 1 Finals MVP Award, and the Sixers need an upgraded defensive player, especially in the playoffs. Most likely giving up players like Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, and more, Leonard’s systematic gameplay would tie cohesively together with what the Sixers are doing. His defensive awareness and offensive ability would certainly help them for the playoffs, which is worth trading for.

John-Baptiste: Boston and it’s not even close. Their style of play. Their already blossoming wing players. The coach. Everything about that situation screams Kawhi. He can create on his own or run in the flow of the offense. He’s ridiculously versatile and Boston could maximize all aspects of his game.

Kirkland: I think most people would agree that every team in the league can use a stud 2-way player that is young. Half of me wants to see LeBron stay in Cleveland and Kawhi join him for the redemption year but the relationship between James and upper management combined with their money situation makes that situation highly unlikely. I think the logical fit for anyone who is looking to compete and take a shot at the Warriors or Rockets immediately is the Boston Celtics. They made it to the Eastern Conference Finals without their two best guys. Enough said.

4. Which team could be a sleeper in terms of having assets to present a reasonable trade and becoming a potential contender by adding Leonard?

Soaries: Phoenix could be a player with that no. 1 pick. I’m also looking at Charlotte. Kawhi is a Jordan-sponsored athlete and I think Michael will exercise due diligence and at least take a shot at a deal. The Hornets have the 11th pick in the draft. They also have Kemba Walker. If they could use him in a trade for Leonard that would be an interesting opportunity.

Allen: What if the Dallas Mavericks threw out the 5th pick with maybe Harrison Barnes and another pick? A combination of Dennis Smith Jr. and Leonard is something worth considering. The thing is San Antonio doesn’t have much leverage so it’s either they take what they can get now or he walks after next season. I believe Dallas could put together a package that would make the Spurs give it serious consideration.

Anderson: Not the yellow and gold Los Angeles team, but the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have two first round picks back to back. With high picks and some talented assets like Patrick Beverly and Tobias Harris, I see San Antonio potentially taking a deal with them. Leonard is an L.A. native, so I see no reason why playing for the other Los Angeles team wouldn’t make him happy. The twelve and thirteenth picks can help the Clippers slip with a valuable superstar, but only if Pop creates or may already have an idea for where this organization will go from here.

John-Baptiste: Hmmm. How about the Pelicans do a sign and trade swap, DeMarcus Cousins for Kawhi Leonard? Think about the defense of Kawhi, Jrue Holiday, and Anthony Davis. YIKES! Give those guys some shooters and you got a contender in the West.

Kirkland: There are a few teams that are “good” but the writing is on the wall and I want to know what they want to do. The Wizards, Raptors, and Blazers are all kind of in a dead period and should look to make moves. Someone get on the phone!

5. Are you sold on the idea of Leonard potentially pairing with LeBron James and/or Paul George for some superteam firepower to counter the Warriors?

Soaries: Three of the premier and versatile forwards in the NBA now find themselves in situations where they could each make a new move. It’s a scary potential for any combination of those guys to try and team up somewhere. It’s not clear yet if that’s any of their mentalities, but after Golden State just swept through the Finals and repeated, the prospect of something like this has to have possibilities.

Allen: It sounds great on paper but I’m not sure how well it would play out. For one, those three guys would take up a lot of the salary cap so that would mean giving up a lot of talent. Two, they all play the same position. That’s not such a huge problem in today’s game but I just don’t seem them gelling that great on the court. Last but not least, that’s not enough shooting in my opinion. They’re all decent shooters but you need some powerful outside shooting to combine with playmaking to take down the Warriors. They have the playmaking and defense but I just believe that would be a stale offense.

Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard’s trade request and LeBron James’ potential free agency are now linked for the postseason (Photo: Soobum Im / USA TODAY Sports)

John-Baptiste: Absolutely. The Warriors have a myriad of versatile wings and you have to try to counter that with versatile wings of your own. Not only would any duo of that nature be able to create their own shot, they’d all be able to switch defensively without giving up much. You definitely need more than one player that can attack and create off the dribble, and those duos give you that and much more.

Anderson: Yes, I’m sold. Teaming up to take down the Golden State Warriors would be a war. The Warriors have won the last 3 out of 4 championships with the addition of their third “splash brother” Kevin Durant in 2016. LeBron and the Cavs proved that it takes more than one superstar to defeat four. I feel as though this summer can be an even bigger takeoff of superteams with Leonard, James, and PG joining forces. They have to choose wisely and have the deepest role players to help them as well.

Kirkland: It’s certainly a possibility. Any team in the league that’s not the Rockets, Warriors, Celtics, or Philly would gladly gut their roster to bring these guys in. These three at the minimum should meet up to discuss the possibility of teaming up in some way. That’s the way the league is now. If they can go somewhere and surround themselves with knockdown shooters, they will be good to compete with anybody.


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