SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses the impact of the trade demand by the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and which teams are the favorites to acquire him. USA TODAY Sports
There is a line of thinking in any sport, that a trade that makes both sides happy is the best one – even if no general manager really wants the other side to be happy when it’s all over. So what do we think of a blockbuster deal where neither of the key pieces are happy?
The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors have agreed to a deal in principle according to reports that will send disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard north of the border along with Danny Green in exchange for – I checked, this is a word – gruntled Raptors star DeMar DeRozan, along with Jacob Poetl and a protected first-round pick.
Leonard wanted to direct his future to Los Angeles and instead finds himself in Toronto. DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, opted to stay in Toronto in free agency and dedicated himself to the franchise. And after he was reportedly assured by Masai Ujiri that he would not be dealt, DeRozen was informed overnight by the Raptors GM that he was the centerpiece of the deal.
So no one is happy today.
In a players league, this isn’t about the players. The Raptors saw themselves as a team at a dead end, having invested heavily in DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, only to fall short in the postseason regularly. They fired beloved head coach Dwane Casey and replaced him with Nick Nurse, but now with the Celtics and Sixers rising as powerhouses in the Eastern Conference, but LeBron James finally out of the way, added a top five player in the NBA in Leonard along with experienced three and “D” standout Danny Green.
If they can sell Leonard on Toronto – a great city with a great fan base – like they did with DeRozan, you have a star piece in place. And if they can’t, they can either try to swap him out to his preferred destination or clear cap space for next year’s free agent chase.
And in San Antonio they remove Leonard, who has taken a more precipitous drop than just about any player, not in skill, but in sensibility. He sat out nearly all of last season with injury, but battling with the organization as it wore on. There has just been no player during Greg Popovich’s tenure in San Antonio who was as at odds with the team like this and Leonard seemed bound for the same sort of lifetime love affair that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and even as he departed this summer Tony Parker held with the organization.
With Popovich heading toward the end of his era, starting to talk about retirement as Parker has gone, Ginobili is on his last legs and all of the magic seems to have begun to slip out like a slow leak, DeRozan keeps them relevant. They still seem somewhere behind the Warriors and Rockets in the West, but at least they avoid a full rebuild.
The teams may be happy, or at least content, this morning. But the players? Not today.
What’s next? Do the Raptors try to win Leonard’s heart over? Or does Ujiri make a call to the Lakers and see how quickly they’d like to add Leonard to his preferred location, next to LeBron James? It’s worth watching and for the Lakers, probably worth waiting, as there is no history to tug at Leonard’s heart in free agency, freeing him to head to his happy place.
That is if there is a happy place for Leonard anymore. Today though, we know he is not there.
A musical accompaniment to the trade
Manny Machado gets his shot
Some trades do make all happy though and after a year of rumors, Manny Machado is apparently about to depart Baltimore for Los Angeles, finding himself the key piece to a Dodgers squad that has been battling for the top spot in the NL West without Corey Seager, the young shortstop who was lost for the season to elbow surgery in May.
Machado is still headed toward free agency at season’s end and maybe he is a rental, but a perfect fit of one. The Orioles have made the playoffs three times in Machado’s time there, but slipped below .500 last year and now are an ugly 28-69 at the All-Star break, in need of rebuilding pieces for a future somewhere off in the distance.
Even the Mets win in this one as they avoid the Phillies, an early favorite in the Machado chase, getting even stronger.
A musical counterpoint for Machado
Yankees All-Stars rise up
The American League captured the All-Star Game with Aaron Judge getting them started by homering off of hometown hero Max Scherzer. It was the first of a record-setting 10 home runs hit in the game, maybe making Luis Severino an unsung hero – as he didn’t allow a homer in his inning of work and did catch Judge’s blast in the bullpen.
Dark day for Josh Hader
While the Home Run Derby Monday and the All-Star Game Tuesday were filled with highlights and good feelings, the break was spoiled by the disclosure during the game of tweets from the high school days by Brewers All-Star reliever, Josh Hader. I’m not going to repeat the text of the tweets here and I’d tell you to avoid searching them out with the knowledge that he offended just about everyone with racist, homophobic, sexist missives.
“There’s no excuse for what was said,” Hader told reporters in the NL clubhouse afterward. “I’m deeply sorry for what I said and what’s been going on. It doesn’t reflect any of my beliefs now.”
It’s seven years ago and he was a teenager and maybe some of the things were song lyrics, like Buffalo Bills’ rookie QB Josh Allen blasted out publicly in high school. A message is worth learning though – the internet is forever. Kids, it may be hard to convince you not to think this way, but at least until then, don’t tweet it out.
Friday was a busy day for the Spurs. First, the greatest point guard in franchise history decided to leave the team that drafted him for a better opportunity at playing time. Then, Kyle Anderson signed an offer sheet that is almost certainly too rich for the Spurs’ blood.
Let’s take a look at both developments and what they might mean for the Spurs going forward.
Parker’s departure was predictable but could be harmful
Parker’s decision to continue his career elsewhere is not really a shock for anyone that has been paying attention. He mentioned that it was a possibility when asked last season. It became more likely when he essentially lost his minutes in the playoffs. With Dejounte Murray penciled in to start and Patty Mills providing a perfect change of pace of the bench thanks to his contrasting skill set, Parker was probably going to be the Spurs’ third string point guard. For a guy that is used to starter’s minutes and wants to play for a few more seasons, that’s not an acceptable role. No one can blame Parker for wanting more and going to a place that can provide it.
While not entirely surprising, Parker’s departure is obviously a huge deal for the franchise, for sentimental reasons. It also could have an impact on the court and on the team’s future decisions. Without Parker, the Spurs are going to have to either sign a veteran third point guard or rely on Derrick White to man the spot at times or in case of an injury. White has been terrific in Summer League so far and could be up for the task, but that’s not really the ideal role for him. As for Mills, with Parker now in Charlotte he becomes an essential piece of the roster. He was never likely to be traded, but now that possibility — along with the cap space it could have opened for next season — seems gone completely.
I’ve seen some people wonder if Parker being gone could help as the Spurs try to patch things up with Kawhi Leonard. After all, it’s been reported that Tony’s comments about his injury being worse than Leonard’s was a major reason for Kawhi’s displeasure with the team. I don’t buy it. I doubt Tony’‘a absence will change anything. There’s no way such a huge decision actually hinges on a perceived diss from months ago. We have to assume that Leonard just wants out, especially in light of the new reports coming out. If that’s the case, Parker’s decision won’t have any significant impact on what ends up happening with Kawhi.
Some might think Parker being gone is actually a good thing. I’m not so sure I agree. Fortunately it seems like the parting of ways was amicable and both the Spurs and Parker will get what they want out of the split. That’s the best we can hope for when a legend departs.
The Spurs face a tough decision on Slowmo
Anderson signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Grizzlies. That seems like way too much money to pay for a guy who probably shouldn’t be a starter on a good team. At a glance, it seems like Memphis overpaid in order to pry him away and the smart thing to do is let him go. There’s no reason to tie up cap space from future seasons on a player who doesn’t move the needle this year and won’t likely make a big enough jump in production in the future to justify the opportunity cost of keeping him. After thinking it over more intently, however, now I’m not sure letting Anderson walk is such an obvious move.
There’s a lot more to basketball than shooting, and Anderson is good at almost all of it. He can rebound, score in a pinch, find the open man and defend. With the league demanding positional flexibility, a guy that can realistically play both forward spots is valuable. Then there are the little things. While he might have some of the slowest feet of any NBA wing, he has terrific hands, and is capable of getting steals and fueling a transition offense. For a guy with a below-average first step, he sure gets to the line a lot. His in-and-out dribble gets defenders off balance and his pump fake is weirdly effective. He knows how to play. Those skills do enough offset a lot of the damage his reluctant and subpar outside shooting does to the spacing in the half court.
The Spurs could also have trouble replacing him, not just as a rotation player but as a prospect. We still don’t know what will happen with Kawhi Leonard. If he’s traded for a couple of young forwards, the loss of Anderson won’t be a huge issue. If the haul is different, the Spurs could be losing a reliable starter. Anderson is also 24 years old and has some untapped potential. The shot won’t likely ever come, but if it does, Anderson could easily be an elite sixth man or fifth starter on a contender. R.C. Buford called him a part of the future as recently as in draft night. This is a time to acquire and cultivate young talent, not lose it. Future cap space is intriguing, but so is Slowmo.
I’m still leaning towards believing the Spurs should not match the offer sheet. The money is a little high, four years is too long and the trade kicker it includes might make his deal hard to move. But if the Spurs decide to keep Anderson, I could understand their reasoning.
With all the Kawhi Leonard drama, Parker’s free agency this offseason was overshadowed. It was believed that the 17-year veteran hoped to stay in San Antonio and remain with the team he’s played for his entire professional career.
Parker won four championships and was a six-time All-Star for the Spurs. Tough decision. Tough three days.
“Tough communicating it all to Pop,” Parker told The Undefeated. “But I had to move on. It was a very emotional conversation with Pop and (Spurs general manager) R.C. Buford. I will always love San Antonio. I will always be a Spur.”
Last season, Parker lost his starting role to Dejounte Murray and averaged a career-low 7.7 points per game and 3.5 assists per game in 55 games (21 starts). The 36-year-old Frenchman averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game in the 2017-18 campaign.
Parker joined the franchise back in 2001 and will now be reunited with former Spurs assistant James Borrego, who was named head coach of the Hornets earlier this offseason.
The Hornets have been searching for a backup point guard behind Kemba Walker and were one of the five or six teams that were reportedly interested in Parker. His decision was reportedly based on Charlotte’s pitch of granting him more playing time and a significant role within the team.
Since the Hornets are over the salary cap, a portion of the team’s midlevel exception will be used to complete the deal.
Some damning new information came to light yesterday about the Kawhi Leonard situation via Michael C. Wright’s appearance on Tom Haberstroh’s podcast, with Wright shedding some light on the situation that the Spurs find themselves in. After listening to the podcast in it’s entirety, here are some of the key takeaways:
Wright explains that a big reason for the gap between Leonard and the team is because of the perception held by Kawhi’s group that the Spurs are too controlling. However, it seems that Kawhi’s Uncle Dennis may not be the best person to evaluate how controlling someone is. Wright told a previously unshared anecdote about All Star Weekend in New Orleans in January to illustrate that point:
Let me tell you a quick story. At the All Star game in New Orleans a few years ago. Kawhi and his people are at the hotel, which is 3 blocks away from the arena. So the Spurs are like, the security people are like, ‘We need to get you out at this time for us to be able to make it to the game on time, because it’s gonna take 3 hours to get 3 blocks, basically.’ Kawhi’s people, namely Uncle Dennis, said, ‘No, we’re not doing that because the Spurs are trying to control this situation, this is what we’re going to do,’ So they decide to leave when Uncle Dennis decides to go and they get stuck in traffic!….You know what ended up happening? These guys ended up paying the hotel to hold the car and they walked, through Mardi Gras crowds, to the arena. They had Kawhi put his hood up and they walked through those crowds to the arena.
Wright makes the argument that, although Dennis sees the Spurs as a dictatorial entity, he has no frame of reference when it comes to how the 29 other teams in the NBA do business. On the subject of the injury that kept Kawhi out all season and the effect Dennis had on the situation, Wright says he made it worse:
“The major component of all this is Uncle Dennis cause he sort of fans the flames. Even the Spurs will tell you behind the scenes, ‘hey did we get this right? Well we don’t know,’ because they never got a chance to go through their rehab process long enough to know whether what they were doing worked. A lot of people don’t know this, but the Spurs gave Kawhi and his camp control of his injury situation, they let them take over on August 8th of last year. People do not realize that.”
Which brings us to the injury itself and the rehabilitation process.
According to Wright, the Spurs handed over control of Kawhi’s injury to his group back in August of last season when Leonard complained of pain from the rehabilitation exercises that the Spurs were putting him through to treat his quad. While it was reported at various points throughout the season that Spurs’ doctors were with Kawhi in New York during his rehab process, it appears that they had no input whatsoever on the treatment that Kawhi’s doctors were putting him through, which is when we can slot the story of Kawhi’s people moving him to a different part of the building when Spurs’ brass arrived.
“Think about this, you go through the entire season, and Pop was asked these questions over and over and over again and I don’t think people realize this: Pop didn’t have any answers because the whole rehab process was out of his hands, he didn’t know anything. So when he’s saying, ‘You’ll have to ask his group,’ it’s not that he’s taking shots at Kawhi and his people its that he doesn’t know.”
The last few weeks have brought a new phrase into the equation when discussing a potential Spurs-Lakers trade for Leonard: Godfather offer.The Spurs want a king’s ransom back in return for their superstar, and Wright detailed what he heard they were looking for from Magic Johnson, while also acknowledging that it is unlikely the Spurs get back what they desire:
“From what I heard the Spurs wantedBrandon Ingram, Kuzma, Hart and 3 picks. But i talked to someone else and they were like, ‘No I heard 4 picks,’…Teams are not going to do that deal, and as the summer progresses I think teams are going to be less likely to do that type of deal and the Spurs are going to have to reel back what their demands are at this point.”
Going forward, it appears that there is uncertainty with what will happen with Leonard and the franchise, even among higher ups in the organization:
“Even right now, as we speak, the Spurs STILL don’t know what they want to do with him. I’ve had conversations in the last couple days with very high ranking Spurs’ officials and they do not know. They don’t know if and when a trade is going to happen, they don’t know if they’re going to keep him and trying to work it out. Now their preference is to keep him and try to work out it.”
Wright points out that there is a certain 221 million dollar super max extension that could clear all this up, at least for the moment, but after the year the Spurs just had dealing with this situation, they are fully aware of the risks that would come with handing over 30% throughout the next 5 years of their cap to Leonard:
“My guy told me, ‘Hey i bet if we put that big check in his face, everything will work out.’ And my response to that was, “Ok that’s cool, it’ll be all kumbaya for a couple months, but what happens if Uncle Dennis or Kawhi decides they wanna pull this same stuff from his past season?”
This would appear to confirm that the Spurs have yet to even offer the super max extension, acknowledging that it is a massive gamble to give up that much money and cap space on a player and his group that seemingly has become unpredictable and unhinged.
In the end, Wright believes the Spurs are at a point where they will do what is best for them, not for Kawhi. Much like this entire drama has been all year though, do not expect a timetable to lay it all out for us.