There’s trouble down in San Antonio, and apparently, its been brewing for a few months.
The problems really started when Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs star forward, injured his right quad in the playoffs last spring. Leonard spent the entire off-season rehabbing, and didn’t make his regular-season debut until mid-December, when San Antonio fell to the Dallas Mavericks, 95-89, at the American Airlines Center.
In that game, San Antonio’s most talented and critical piece played well in restricted minutes, and all seemed well in Spurs land.
Almost a week ago, everything changed when Leonard, who has played just nine games this season, was ruled out of the lineup indefinitely because the same quad injury had apparently resurfaced.
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Then, came the downright shocking joint-report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright that Leonard and the Spurs were at odds. In that report, unnamed sources said that the forward and his camp were “distant” and “disconnected” from the franchise.
Today, ESPN’s Jalen Rose said Leonard wants out because the organization can’t attract marquee talent:
While general manager R.C. Buford denied a rift, he did call the situation “difficult.”
For the Mavericks, the question is this: Would it be possible to bring Leonard to Dallas?
The NBA, perhaps more than any other professional league, has a long history of disgruntled star players shooting their way out of town. Notable examples include Vince Carter, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Charles Barkley, Dwight Howard and many, many more.
The Mavericks even have a textbook example of their own in Jason Kidd. After becoming an All-Star in just his second season in the NBA, Kidd forced the organization that drafted him to trade him to Phoenix. In 2008, he managed to get himself traded back to Dallas, where he would help deliver the franchise its first and only NBA title in 2011.
As for Leonard, the idea of signing one of the league’s 10 best players to a long-term deal in free-agency is out. In the summer of 2015, the Spurs locked him up to a five-year, $90 million max extension.
So, what could an enticing trade package look like?
While the Mavericks have a few quality role players, none of them are likely to be overly attractive to a veteran head coach and front office that are pushing for another championship. Some might argue Harrison Barnes is an appealing asset, but his pedestrian offensive production, not to mention his defensive deficiencies, make him a questionable fit for Gregg Popovich’s system and demanding coaching style.
At a minimum, the deal would have to include either rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. or the team’s first round selection, unprotected, for the 2018 NBA Draft. Mark Cuban’s team currently has the fourth worst record in the league, which means that pick has a decent chance to become the first overall selection at best, and a top 10 selection at worst, depending on how the lottery shakes out.
The San Antonio front-office would probably ask for that pick and the Mavericks’ star rookie. In turn, Dallas would probably counter with one or the other, and throw in multiple future first round picks that would come with a few conditions.
There are a few major roadblocks preventing this scenario from playing out. For one, when LaMarcus Aldridge first signed an extension with San Antonio, Popovich, who is now 68, assured the forward and Leonard that he would stay on as the team’s coach for a while longer.
Second, these two teams have fought their fair share of battles, especially in the playoffs, and it’s rare for divisional opponents to execute major trades with one another.
Mavericks fans can still dream.
If the organization were able to join Leonard with a proven head coach in Rick Carlisle, and an up-and-coming point in Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas would instantly become a top free-agent destination this coming off-season.
And with a reasonable amount of projected cap-space for next season, Cuban and his staff would have a real shot at landing a potential top-of-the-market player such as New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins, or solid players like Detroit Pistons guard Avery Bradley or Phoenix Suns center Greg Monroe.