Kawhi Leonard will likely spend out the rest of his contract, if not his career, with the Los Angeles Clippers. After spending some discombobulated time with the San Antonio Spurs and becoming a one-time hero with the Toronto Raptors, he’s possibly begun to plant his final roots in LA as he continues to try and cement his legacy.
There is the possibility for an alternative ending, however. The Clippers are on a speed date with Leonard as they try to prove to the four-time All-Star that their franchise is worthy of housing him until his eventual retirement. Upon signing with the Clippers, Leonard opted for a two-plus-one deal instead of a typical four-year deal. His contract also gives him the choice to opt out of his deal in the third year. In short, the crux boils down to a belief that even the Clippers know: they have one more year to convince Leonard to stay.
As history shows, Leonard doesn’t have a problem leaving a team that he feels won’t best serve him in the long term. The Clippers are no different in that regard. Their front office would definitely ship off Paul George rather than Leonard, but who’s to say that they don’t save themselves the gamble ahead of Leonard’s pending decision at the end of the 2020-21 season?
With that, we look at a few trades that may never happen, but could possibly materialize following a Clippers meltdown before next year.
3. Houston Rockets
Rockets get: Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac
Clippers get: James Harden
The parallel universes would be grateful for a trade such as this, which is exactly why it’ll never happen. Still, if the Houston Rockets wanted to get out from under Russell Westbrook, consider this a huge splash. Yes, Leonard actually makes less money than Harden, who signed a supermax contract with the Rockets back in 2017. Because of this, the Rockets actually get more in this deal by obtaining a big that they desperately need at the moment with Ivica Zubac.
Harden would then be paired with George, which would possible prove to be the on the least-favorite pairings in Rockets history. With new head coach Tyronn Lue at the helm of the Clippers now, this off-kilter roster could take another crack at the championship, perhaps even finishing better than this year.
All would be righted in Houston as well, as Westbrook would be paired with a mature co-star (no shot to Harden) that could lead by example rather than words. Aside from Kevin Durant, it could end up being the best teammate that he’s had in his career.
2. Indiana Pacers
Pacers get: Kawhi Leonard
Clippers get: Victor Oladipo, TJ Warren, 2021 first-round pick (via Milwaukee), 2022 second-round pick (via Miami)
The aspect of this trade that proves to be far from anything mouth-watering is not where Leonard would spend the next portion of his career but rather who he would be swapped for. Victor Oladipo hasn’t been the hottest name as of late in trade rumors around the league. After reports surfaced that the guard was desiring to be moved before the start of next season, both he and the Pacers moved in quickly for some good ol’ damage control.
Even so, the Indiana standout wasn’t garnering much attention apparently in the trade market to date. Even with teams such as the Miami Heat and New York Knicks looking to make big moves in the offseason, Brian Windhorst stated that Oladipo’s apparent desire to be moved may not be a mutual feeling amongst other teams around the league. Windhorst even went as far as to say that the Los Angeles Lakers shouldn’t offer Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma for Oladipo, which definitely should allow a message to resonate in reference to his value.
Still, Oladipo is a guard that’s capable of generating offense, playing in the open floor and getting his own shot, something the Clippers have long desired from a guard since Chris Paul. Given his health history though, the Pacers would have to throw in two draft picks as well. They’d also get TJ Warren in the deal, an overnight celebrity that definitely caught some attention due to his All-Star-like performances during his time in the bubble.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Sixers get: Kawhi Leonard
Clippers get: Joel Embiid, Rodney McGruder, 2020 first round pick (via Oklahoma City)
For the Sixers, this is a blessing. They nab the superstar that ended their championship titles in the 2019 playoffs and add another big name to pair alongside Ben Simmons. Also, they’ll get the production they hoped for from Tobias Harris out of Leonard. Though the two forwards in Harris and Leonard finished the season with similar stat lines, there’s much to be said about Harris’ lack of elevation on the offensive side.
Pairing Leonard with Harris and Simmons indefinitely stretches the floor to maximum capacity, easily making them the longest team when in transition next year.
Leonard also possesses a defensive prowess that can replace the absence of Embiid while adding another facet to the Sixers’ defensive presence with Simmons, who was named to his first All-Defensive First Team last season . The craziest part of this trade? Possibly the fact that Leonard wasn’t against the firing of former head coach Doc Rivers, who would now once again be coaching him.