The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, who can opt out of his contract after next season, is looking for a trade, The San Antonio Express-News first reported. "Leonard has grown uncomfortable with the Spurs and is ready to move," Yahoo Sports reported, with ESPN reporting that the Lakers are his preferred destination.
This is a lot to take in for everybody involved. The Spurs may have just seen their best shot at title contention ask to be traded away. Leonard himself is asking to give up a potential huge payday -- a super max contract -- that he can only get with the Spurs. The Lakers, badly wanting this to be the offseason where they get back on track, may have just had a star fall into their laps.
Let's start with Leonard's situation. Due to a nagging quad injury, he missed most of last season and only played nine games. That injury has caused a stable relationship to completely fall apart. The Spurs, but he chose to sit out and rehab the injury away from the team. This eventually led to locker room issues, and a players-only meeting was held where Leonard was apparently
Despite all this, it felt like Leonard returning to the Spurs was close to a sure thing. Not only because of the previous success he had with the franchise, but due to the super max contract the Spurs can give him. Only San Antonio can offer Leonard a deal worth $219 million over five years. If Leonard doesn't accept this, he could lose as much as $31 million on his next contract. According to Chris Haynes of ESPN, Leonard is willing to take that loss, apparently, due to "a feeling of betrayal."
This is going to have a major impact on the Spurs. Their team has been built to compete right now and Leonard is obviously their roster's centerpiece. When he finished runner up for MVP in the 2015-16 season, it was because he did everything for them. He was the central creator of their offense as well as the anchor of their defense. With Leonard, the Spurs are considered a title contender. Without him, they've proven to be a team that gets eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh ran the numbers on the Spurs without Leonard, and the simulations projected the Spurs' win total to drop five games. But despite that, they would still be projected to finish third in the Western Conference. Obviously, a lot will change, though, during this offseason. (This does not take into account any potential players the Spurs would add with a trade.)
If the Spurs do gain any advantage from this, they can demand just about anything in return for a trade and it will be hard for the teams offering to say no. After all, they'll be getting an legitimate MVP candidate in return.
The Spurs still have the super max in their pocket in case Leonard has a change of heart and he's going to have a lot of teams asking about him. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Leonard may actually have interest, after all, in that super max and the Spurs are going to be patient with this. Meanwhile, he also reports both the Lakers and Clippers are already showing interest and would prepare quickly for a potential deal.
The Lakers could come away from this as the biggest winners of all. They want a star bad, and Leonard could fall right to them with a trade demand. They have the young assets necessary to make an offer to the Spurs and they have the cap room to not only add Leonard, but maybe use this trade to create more space for another star, such as a Paul George or maybe a LeBron James.
SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh simulated the season based on potential moves the Lakers might make to show how it would improve their projections. The table below is assuming the Lakers have moved Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
Los Angeles Lakers
With LeBron and Kawhi
If Leonard's request holds true and the Spurs end up trading him, then this could be a blockbuster that shakes the entire NBA. It just depends on where he goes and what is offered.