With Spurs star Kawhi Leonard confusing teammates, fans and the media alike with his decision to sit out the remainder of the season despite being medically cleared to play, his future in San Antonio seems to be in doubt. Leonard can opt out of his contract after next season and become a free agent. Naturally, all this uncertainty has led to a lot of speculation that the Spurs could try to move Leonard this summer if they don’t feel like he wants to be part of this team’s future.
It’s not often that stars of Leonard’s quality become available, and as highlighted by a recent poll conducted by Carmichael Dave, Kings fans are pretty split as to whether or not to go after Leonard if he should indeed become available. With pretty much nothing else of note going on right now, Greg and I decided to represent both sides of the argument.
AKIS: Before I get started I just want to say that whatever Greg says is wrong and you shouldn’t even bother reading his argument. With that out of the way, I don’t think the Kings should go after Kawhi Leonard. Sure, in a perfect world, Leonard is an amazing fit for this team. He’s a top 5 player in the NBA when healthy, fills Sacramento’s biggest position of need, and best of all is still young.
But his contract status and Sacramento’s history can’t be ignored. To acquire Leonard would likely mean giving up high quality assets on a team that’s strapped for assets as is. You would also have to do so with no guarantee that Kawhi would stay in Sacramento beyond one season. And if he does leave, that puts the Kings in an even worse spot than they were before. Sure, the Kings could try to re-coup some of that value at the deadline if they don’t think he’s going to stay, but if you’re going to trade for Kawhi, you don’t do so without the idea that you are going to go all out in trying to re-sign him. You’ll be able to offer him more money and years than any other team. But if even the Spurs, a team that he has a history of success with, don’t feel like he’s willing to stay, why would he do so for a team like the Kings, who haven’t had anything close to success since Leonard was in middle school?
GREG: The reason you trade for him is Chris Webber. C-Webb didn’t want to be in Sacramento. But when he reported for duty he fell in love with the city. It’s a great city, a great fan base, and with Kawhi it could easily be a great team.
When the opportunity presents itself to get a player of Kawhi’s caliber, you go get him. You figure out the rest later.
A: The Webber situation is completely different in my mind though. Webber had three years left on his deal. He was viewed as a malcontent in Washington as well and hadn’t yet experience any real success. With Webber, the Kings had time to build a team around him. With Kawhi you’re gambling on him falling in love with the team and city in just one year, in a very competitive Western conference. What would it take for him to stay? Would the Kings have to make the playoffs? Is Leonard alone good enough to make the Kings leap the 20+ games in one season to just even be in contention to make it? And with shorter contracts in today’s NBA, Leonard will have no shortage of suitors in perhaps even better made situations than Sacramento.
G: Very true, but I think Kawhi could need less convincing. Let’s be honest, if he wants out of San Antonio then winning might not be his top priority. He’s certainly not a guy who wants to be in a big media city. Sacramento could give him a big pay day and even if they didn’t become instant contenders I do believe that adding one elite talent to the current team would be enough to make a leap.
And if you’re not going to try to get Kawhi, what are we doing? Building through the draft and hoping we can land a guy in the mid lotto who becomes a player of Kawhi’s talent?
A: First off, we don’t know where that draft pick will land yet. I think we can both agree that if the Kings land a top three pick, they almost certainly wouldn’t be including it in a Leonard trade (whereas if we didn’t jump, it almost certainly would have to be). At some point the Kings are almost certainly going to have to make a big trade/acquisition of some sort to take the next step. But Leonard seems too risky to me. I’d need to have at least two years for certain, or have him agree to a contract extension (I’m not sure on the CBA rules on that and if I recall I think it’s basically against every max player’s best interest to sign extensions now) in order to give up the meager assets we have.
Leonard isn’t going to be the only disgruntled star available. There will be other opportunities that might present with less risk for the Kings.
G: There’s always going to be disgruntled stars, sure, but Kawhi isn’t just a star. We’re talking about a truly elite defender who is regularly in contention for DPOY, can carry an offense to the turn of 20+ PPG, is a career 38% shooter from beyond the arc, and is still in his prime. Those types of players don’t come available every day, especially not to a team like the Kings.
He’s a huge gamble, but it could be a franchise-altering reward.
So what do you think Kings fans? If Kawhi Leonard became available, should the Kings be in the hunt? Share your thoughts in the comments below.