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#TradeSZN: Kawhi is Outta There

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What the news of Kawhi Leonard wanting out from San Antonio means for the Thunder, the league, and more

San Antonio Spurs v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images


A few quick things on this potential blockbuster news, before everyone starts firing up the trade machine:

1. The Supermax doesn’t guarantee your stars stay.

Following Kevin Durant’s departure from the Thunder, the new collective bargaining agreement gave teams the ability to offer their own free agents who had hit certain criteria (all-NBA teams, all-defensive teams, etc.) a much larger contract than any other team, supposedly making it easier to retain their free agents. The Thunder were able to use this to sign Russ to his massive contract, but just as often it hasn’t helped teams retain their stars: Kyrie Irving, who could have qualified had he stayed in Cleveland, demanded a trade instead. Kawhi, who did qualify and could have signed such a deal this very summer, instead wants to leave. In a way, the max can even work against teams; if you have the ability to offer it a player will be offended if you don’t, but it’s so much money that teams can be a little hesitant to offer it. That seems to have been the thinking behind the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins a season ago.

In the end, money is sweet, but once you’ve already made more money than you’ll ever know what to do with, location and a winning situation become even more important. Kawhi is the latest evidence of that.

2. The Lakers Superteam is now in play

Per woj, Kawhi wants to go to Los Angeles- preferably the Lakers. That would open up the possibility of a Kawhi-LeBron-Paul George big 3. That’s contingent on the Spurs being willing to trade him to L.A. Kawhi will have a lot more leverage that you might think- he can make it clear that he’s only willing to go to L.A., and won’t re-sign with any other team when his contract expires, which would severely limit how much other teams are willing to offer for him. Factor in that LA does have a number of young players the Spurs should be interested in, and LA should be able to beat any offer. They even have enough assets to convince San Antonio to take back Luol Deng’s ugly contract. Once they do that, they should have the cap space to sign LeBron and PG outright (which means any chance of a sign-and-trade is gone).

There’s no guarantee it plays out like this- Kawhi might be fine with the Clippers, and the Spurs might send him there instead. Or it could be similar to the Paul George trade last summer, where the Spurs find a team willing to take a one year flier on Kawhi in exchange for something the Spurs like. It’s also possible that PG sees Kawhi and LeBron both head for L.A. and decides he doesn’t want to be the third wheel alongside two former finals MVP’s. It’s even possible that the Spurs get Kawhi to change his mind.

But all in all, this has certainly increased the odds that George is wearing Purple and Gold next year.

3. The Warriors are on Notice

The Warriors remain the best team in the league and the favorites to win a championship until someone knocks them off. But they faced a real challenge from the Rockets last year, a healthy version of the Celtics could give them trouble, and this superteam, if it comes to fruition, would also represent a true challenge to their dominance. The Warriors will still have enough talent to overcome these challenges, but it will be the realest test they’ve faced in the Durant era.

4. Lavar vs. Pop

The best part of Kawhi to the Lakers, if it happens: Lonzo Ball probably is part of the trade package back to the Spurs. Hell yes. Give it to me. Give me LaVar Ball calling Tony Parker a bum and challenging Manu to a game of one-on-one. Give me LaVar storming into R.C. Buford’s office and demanding their G-league affiliate sign LiAngelo Ball. Give me Lonzo and Kyle Kuzma teaming up on a Kawhi diss track on their way out of L.A. Give me LaVar asking what this Gregg Popovich guy knows about basketball anyways the first time the team loses more than 3 games. Give me Popovich somehow coaching the team into another playoff berth and facing the Lakers in the first round.

We all love basketball first and foremost for what happens on the court (and by the way, Lonzo and Kuzma would probably develop very nicely on the court in San Antonio). But the off-court stuff is a big part of the fun too. The drama that would ensue from the most well-run organization in sports having to contend with America’s worst ever Sports Dad would be too good to pass up.


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