The State of the Association Part 2

Part 2!
(NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) in action against the at Madison Square Garden on January 2, 2018 in New York City. The Spurs defeated the Knicks 100-91. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

Usually I’d like to talk about multiple topics, but today there is just one situation that really has me going. So just this once I’ll focus in on one topic for the full blog. You’ll want to stick around, because this could change the face of the NBA and completely rearrange the league’s food chain.

It seems like the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes have begun. It has come out that Leonard wants out of San Antonio and that his preferred destination is Los Angeles. Of course, he’d prefer to go to the Lakers instead of the Clippers but that should almost go without saying. But let’s back up a little and recap how we got to this point.

Leonard suffered a devastating injury in game one of the 2016 Western Conference Finals when Zaza Pachulia of the Golden State Warriors stepped under Leonard while he was shooting a baseline jumper. Leonard’s left foot came down on Pachulia’s and he suffered an ankle injury that kicked this whole drama off. The Warriors swept the Spurs in the series and went on to win the NBA championship.

What came next was a long rehab and a complete mishandling of the situation by the Spurs who are usually really good at dealing with these situations. Leonard played in just nine games this season and the Spurs had one of their worst seasons in years. It was the first time the team did not have at least 50 wins since the 1998-99 season.

Leonard took a lot of criticism from fans and other sources because the Spurs announced he was cleared to play, but he chose to continue to sit and not push himself to play. People accused him of being soft, selfish, and not caring about his team. He was transformed from a hero to a villain in a matter of months and it wasn’t fair at all.

But look at it this way, Leonard is just 26 years old and has many years ahead of him. He was an MVP candidate last year and has already won two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He is the best two-way player in the league and, in my opinion, the fourth best player in the world. He’s at least in the top tier of NBA players, in public opinion. He had every right to make the call he did and choose to wait until he felt he was one-hundred percent. The Spurs and fans should’ve trusted him. I mean he’s the reason the Spurs won the championship a few years ago!

We can never be sure, but if the Spurs had simply given one of the most private players in the league the privacy and respect he deserved, then they might have had him for years to come. Instead it looks like they’re going to lose one of the greatest players of this generation. I cannot stress how much this could’ve been avoided. We’ve all come to expect more from the Spurs and Greg Popovich, but they botched this one.

Things got worse for the Spurs and their fans this past week when ESPN’s Chris Haynes has reported that Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs may now be “irreparable”. Despite the lack of trust and disgruntled feelings, just because Leonard wants to leave the Spurs doesn’t mean he will this offseason. Much like the situation with Kyrie Irving last year, Leonard is under contract for 2018 and has a player option in 2019. So at most he’s under contract for two more years, but something tells me if he stays with the team he won’t be picking up that option next year.

Basically he’s under contract for one more year and after that he’s gone. The Spurs have to weigh the options of losing him for nothing in a year or trading him now and realizing they’ll never get a player in return that is as good as him. There’s no winning situation. Honestly though, if the team holds Leonard against his will they’ll still lose to the Warriors next year. Even with Leonard they just can’t match that team of four All-Stars. From that angle, it makes more sense to trade Leonard now.

And that’s about the full recap of the situation. People will speculate for weeks, months even, how this will unfold. Fans will be busy creating their “dream trades” to find ways to get Leonard on their favorite team. It’s going to be fun to see all of those options come out, but we have to remember that they mean absolutely nothing. For all we know Leonard will be back with the Spurs next year, or he might not be traded until just before the deadline in the middle of the season. It’s all a guessing game.

There are two dream scenarios that I found interesting and I’m sure you’ve heard of them. What will happen in the western conference if the Lakers trade for Leonard, and sign LeBron James and Paul George (talk about a return to Showtime)? The other is a potential trade with the Boston Celtics for Irving or Gordon Hayward and some draft pick(s). That move would create a super team with five All-Star caliber players: Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Irving/Gordon, Leonard, and Jayson Tatum. Both of these situations would alter the NBA for years to come. Then again, there’s a reason why they’re called dream scenarios.

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