Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and the New York Knicks have an outside shot at trading for the superstar, but should they?
The first big bombshell of the NBA offseason dropped on Friday afternoon and the New York Knicks certainly took notice. Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio after an injury-plagued season. There is obviously some friction between the organization and the superstar.
As soon as the news broke, ESPN’s Ian Begley reported that “people close to Leonard have expressed a desire for Leonard to play in New York.”
Leonard in a Knicks uniform is certainly a tantalizing image, but it’s not a trade the Knicks can afford to make right now. It’s a pipe dream for many reasons and that may be a blessing in disguise for the brain trust of David Fizdale, Scott Perry, and Steve Mills.
They won't have enough to get him
To acquire a talent like Leonard, an organization has to be willing to part with assets. Those assets can come in the form of young talent, draft picks, or even contracts. Simply put, the Knicks will get outbid by other teams with more attractive assets at their disposal.
Kristaps Porzingis is certainly the most attractive trade chip the Knicks could offer, but his ACL injury muddies his value. Not to mention, if Perry and Mills want to acquire Kawhi, it’s not because they want to replace Porzingis. It’s because they want to pair the former Finals MVP with the Latvian All-Star.
So what would the Knicks give up in a deal for Leonard? At the very least, they would be forced to give up this year’s top-10 pick in the draft. More likely than not, it would also need to include a future first-rounder. After that, Frank Ntilikina would be a likely target of Gregg Popovich. Draft picks and Ntilikina are the most appealing assets the Knicks have available.
Maybe the Spurs would have interest in Tim Hardaway Jr., but you can’t imagine that THJ would move the needle too much for Popovich unless he was surrounded by draft picks. There is the possibility that the Knicks take on contracts that San Antonio is looking to dump. But now it feels like we’re grasping at straws to make this deal work.
Traditionally, it is difficult to get back equal value when trading a superstar. There is definitely a deal to be made between the Knicks and the Spurs. Unfortunately, that type of deal typically happens when a team is devoid of better options.
In this case, the Spurs have plenty of potential suitors that will yield a better return than what they would get from New York. The Lakers, Celtics, and 76ers are three teams that come to mind. These are teams with young talent and a willingness to part with draft picks. Throw the Clippers wealth of draft picks into the equation and there are already four teams that have more to offer than the Knicks. Kawhi’s reported interest in playing in Los Angeles doesn’t hurt the case of either Staples Center residents.
Under the perfect conditions, a Knicks-Spurs deal could certainly be made. But with the widespread interest in Leonard and the teams positioned to make enticing offers, it will leave the Knicks on the outside looking in. But this may not be a bad thing after all.
No guarantee of a championship
Any trade involving Porzingis would be a lateral move in every sense of the word. The Knicks would get slightly better because Leonard is a top-five talent in the NBA when healthy, but you need more than one star in order to make a run at a championship.
The Knicks would be trading for an injury-prone player that couldn’t see eye-to-eye with a first-class organization like the Spurs. Taking a risk like that with the payoff being a slight overall improvement just doesn’t make sense.
If you were to pair Leonard with Porzingis, the team would instantly become a contender in the Eastern Conference. But by giving away young assets and draft picks to acquire Leonard, you’re also giving up the ability to bring in young, talented, and most importantly, cost-controlled role players.
By giving up young talent and draft picks to acquire Leonard, Perry and Mills would be forced to turn to free agency to fill out the roster. Free agency is an expensive way to put a team together. Leonard and Porzingis will command huge contracts and this will put the front office in a position where they have to hope and pray that the role players they sign outperform their deals.
Essentially, trading for Kawhi would be the organization’s attempt at taking a shortcut to a championship. A trade would give Fizdale and his staff two stars to work with, but at the same time, it would hamper the front office’s ability to build around these two stars.
It’s not as sexy as making a big splash this offseason, but staying the course is the best option for the Knicks. With a lottery pick this June—and likely another in 2019—the team has the chance to draft young, cost-controlled talent while simultaneously setting their sights on making a big splash in the summers of 2019 and 2020.
When all is said and done, the Knicks probably won’t even have the opportunity to trade for Leonard. This may leave some fans unhappy, but bitter pills may have blessed effects.