The Washington Wizards are in a stressful place as they work on their playoff push and getting back their All-Star, John Wall. Although, with the recent turmoil brewing in San Antonio, they should tirelessly be on the phones.
“I have already talked to several NBA general managers. At the end of this season, teams will call the Spurs and inquire about the availability of Kawhi Leonard.”
One can only assume that the ‘several NBA general managers’ that are the top contenders around the league who can offer substantial deals. The problem for the Wizards is, they won’t want to give up their All-Star talents, John Wall and Bradley Beal to make a deal happen.
But do they have to?
The NBA has proven throughout history that you may not need to trade an All-Star, to get another All-Star, especially when they near the end of their contract. There have been several All-Star level players traded over the past year--Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Chris Paul, and more recently, Blake Griffin. All four were traded for young prospects, draft picks, and suitable role-players, but no one who had made an All-Star game was moved as part of those deals.
For the sake of the Kawhi argument, let’s stick with the wings as the prime example of how this trade can happen. The Bulls dealt Butler and the 16th overall pick (Justin Patton) to Minnesota and received Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick (Lauri Markkanen). The Pacers sent Paul George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
At the time, both teams were criticized for not getting enough back in return for their franchise cornerstones. However, the rhetoric has changed dramatically since last summer. Oladipo blossomed into an All-Star in Indiana and while LaVine has been hampered by injuries in Chicago, Markannen and Dunn have exceeded expectations and given the Bulls hope for the future.
Using those two deals as recent precedent, let’s try to construct a deal for Kawhi Leonard, who has a player option after the 2018-19 season which he’d likely exercise to hit the open market.
Spurs receive: Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Tomas Satoransky, Washington’s 2019 First Round Pick (Unprotected)
Wizards receive: Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol
As long as Leonard’s healthy, the only other issue Washington would have from a personnel perspective is Gasol. He makes $16.8 million next season and has a partial guarantee of $6.7 million for the 2019-20 season. He would add even more bloated salary at a position where they’re already spending too much. Surely, they would have to make another move to restore balance to the roster, but they would probably need to attach an asset or take someone back on a similarly bad deal at a different position to offload one of their centers.
On the Spurs’ end, Otto Porter would be a fantastic young addition for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs organization to develop. Markieff Morris gives the Spurs cheap depth and consistency behind LaMarcus Aldridge, and Tomas Satoransky is another international player that Pop could transform into a strong player off the bench.
If the Wizards really wanted to spice things up, they could offer their 2018 pick instead, but there were reports the Wizards were “determined” to keep this year’s pick at the trade deadline. Then again, that report came out right after Wall underwent knee surgery and there was concern the Wizards could fall out of the playoff race.
Even though the Wizards don’t have a lottery pick to offer this year, they could have the next-best thing. If the Wizards finish with they eighth seed, they would have the 15th overall pick in the draft, where you can get some high-quality players. Just this year we saw the 13th overall pick (Donovan Mitchell) and the 14th overall pick (Bam Adebayo) quickly develop into key contributors on playoff-ready teams. In recent years we’ve also seen studs like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Leonard himself taken with the 15th overall pick. It’s a more valuable pick than what other playoff-level teams can offer outside of Boston and Cleveland.
There are still plenty of risks with going this route. While it might seem asinine to hold on to the 15th pick over Kawhi Leonard, Washington also desperately needs youth, and can’t afford to give up another high-value pick for a rental. Kawhi can and likely will opt out of his deal after the 2018-19 season to test free agency, the same summer John Wall’s supermax extension starts. Washington would have to use Kawhi’s Bird Rights and go deeper into the luxury tax to keep him beyond next season.
On top of that, losing Porter, Morris, and Satoransky would be a huge blow to the Wizards’ depth and create some imbalances on the roster. Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi, and Pau Gasol would tie up a lot of money at center, and leave them thin and cash-strapped at power forward. With Porter and Morris gone, the only options would be Mike Scott and Chris McCullough, who are both unrestricted free agents this summer. Kawhi would probably need to play more at the 4 to make it work, but that won’t solve everything. The Wizards would have to get creative to find help behind him with limited resources.
It would need to make a lot of sacrifices to make a trade like this work, but they would be worthwhile to bring Kawhi to Washington, where he’d be a tremendous fit. He can be efficient like Porter as a scorer, but also brings better playmaking and defensive tools to the table. Leonard can change the outcome of a game by himself, but he’d also get a different kind of help than what he’s had in San Antonio. Though he has played with legends on the Spurs, he’s never had the chance to play with two All-Stars in their primes like John Wall and Bradley Beal.
It’s still too early to say whether or not Kawhi will actually be available and gauge how Washington’s track package stacks up with what other teams can offer, but the Wizards should certainly try to make an aggressive offer to see if they can make a move.