There has been a lot of drama surrounding the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard. The former Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year missed most of the season rehabbing a quad injury despite being cleared to play by team physicians. While it is likely the Spurs will offer Leonard the supermax, the strain in the relationship has people wondering if San Antonio might be willing to trade their star player.
On Wednesday, ESPN published “The seven best Kawhi Leonard trades we’d like to see.” One of these, written by Jeremias Engelmann, involved the Portland Trail Blazers:
Blazers get: Kawhi Leonard, Derrick White
Spurs get: CJ McCollum, 2019 first-round pick
Jeremias Engelmann: Portland is on the wrong side of two consecutive first-round playoff sweeps and would certainly welcome a new face in its starting lineup, especially an All-Star wing and Defensive Player of the Year in Kawhi. The potential risk -- if Leonard isn’t happy with the Spurs of all teams, can he be happy somewhere else? -- is significantly outweighed by the potential upside.
In a vacuum, the Spurs don’t do this trade, as McCollum doesn’t have the impact of Leonard on either side of the court. But with Leonard and the Spurs on such uncertain terms, San Antonio’s hand is a bit forced. While McCollum had a bit of a down year, he’s still one of only 14 players who scored 20 PPG while being younger than 27. From a pure impact standpoint, McCollum generally ranks in the top-40 in multiyear regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM).
McCollum’s biggest weakness, defensive impact, is something that coaching has been shown to have a large influence on. So what better team for him to play on than one that finished top three in defensive rating for six consecutive years? And with how many gems the Spurs have found late in the draft, Portland’s future first-round pick -- expected to be in the low 20s -- should be a welcome addition to the deal.
As Engelmann notes, the Spurs probably don’t do this trade. Even if the relationship between Leonard and San Antonio has devolved to the point where the Spurs feel the need to move on, they could likely get more for a player of Kawhi’s caliber. Some of the other trades ESPN listed — where San Antonio receives Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, or Gordon Hawyard — would probably be better options for coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford.
Check out the full list of ESPN’s trade suggestions here.