While a few of the top-5 players in the league have changed teams in recent years, it’s not the best idea to put all of your chips on signing them in the free agent market. Those players don’t have to sign where it necessarily makes the most sense for them basketball-wise. When you look at the top-5 players in the game today, in my eyes, you have LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry, and Kawhi Leonard.
When you look at the situations surrounding their departures from one team to another, there are a few different reasons for why. LeBron signed to play with his friends in Miami. Recently, he decided to go to the Lakers, who benefitted strongly from their location. Harden was traded a few years before he was considered to be a top-5 guy. Durant went further west to the best team of all-time. Curry, differing a bit, has yet to change teams and probably never will.
That brings us to Kawhi Leonard. His combination of offense and defense makes him arguably the best two-way player in the entire league. His presence on your team immediately elevates your team. Now, imagine him with other star players, like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. That only heightens the team’s overall ceiling. When you have an opportunity to trade for a player of Kawhi’s ilk, you need to act, because you never know what might happen when he hits the open market. The odds are, by nature, not in your favor.
When you look at the other notable players that project to be potentially available on the free agent market next summer, you see guys like Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Kevin Love, and Khris Middleton.
It seems highly unlikely, to me, that Klay will leave the West Coast. Durant may leave the Warriors, but he’ll go to a team like the Knicks. Jimmy and Kyrie have reportedly talked about teaming up, which likely takes the Sixers out on those two. Love and Harris aren’t necessarily great fits and don’t make much of a difference when considering making the leap to championship contender, even though both are really good players. Middleton would be the best target, for my money, outside of anyone not named Kawhi Leonard. However, while I think he’s a very good, underrated player, he’s not as good as Kawhi.
When you actually take a step back and assess the situation, it’s really hard to foresee the Sixers getting a player in free agency that takes them to a championship level. Sure, it’s cool to believe that Klay would sign or KD would consider, but it’s just unrealistic to me.
Making a trade for Kawhi Leonard – this summer – should be the Sixers play. Why?
If Kawhi were to hit the open market, I think it’s unlikely he’d sign with the Sixers. We’ve heard all about his reported interest in LA, whether it be the Lakers or Clippers. However, if you trade for him now and make a run to the Finals, or at least get on the brink, you’ve put yourself in a great position to keep him.
Not only that, but by trading for him, you can offer him an extra year on his contract and, in turn, more money. For a player like Kawhi, who’s had some health issues, it makes sense for him to strongly consider the security of a 5-year contract. That extra year is a big carrot dangling in front of him.
Here’s an overview of the max new money payout of various Kawhi Leonard contract options: pic.twitter.com/bDA4i83AGY
— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertNahmad) June 21, 2018
His fit with the Sixers is basically a dream. He’s an outstanding wing defender, which the Sixers could really use. He’s also someone that can create his own shot, which the Sixers could definitely use too. A trio of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Kawhi Leonard immediately becomes a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. For me, with good moves around the edges, that team could be a championship contender as well.
The next question is what would the best trade be for the Sixers – and the Spurs? I think it’s tough to trade a guy like Markelle Fultz, at this point, because his value is likely as low as it will ever be, assuming he gets better. Similarly, he really seems to be making progress on returning to the player that the Sixers drafted a year ago. Short of an ironclad, long-term commitment from Kawhi and his camp, I wouldn’t move Fultz.
I think a deal centered around Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and the Miami Heat 2021 unprotected 1st makes sense. There are a few other combinations that make sense as well. It really comes down to what the Spurs are looking for. If they want to stay competitive, that offer makes sense. If they want to have more for the future, maybe you take out Covington and add Zhaire Smith and other things to match salaries.
I think there is a deal to be made and it might turn out to be less, in terms of assets changing hands, than we expect. There is a deal there that will help both teams now and into the future.
Obviously, the major caveat here is Kawhi’s health. I have no information whatsoever, which means all I can do is analyze the situation with the information that we all have at hand. If the Sixers are able to determine his long-term health isn’t an issue, they should proceed with a trade. I trust Brett Brown (and Monty Williams, for that matter) to work his Spurs connections, which includes Kawhi himself, in order to have as much information as he can to make the right decision.
Moving forward without making a big move prevents the Sixers from making that jump into title contention, in my opinion. The Sixers need to strike while the iron is hot and take advantage of their situation. Trading for Kawhi Leonard changes that equation, not only due to his individual talent, but because of his championship pedigree.