What Kawhi Leonard's Trade Request Means for San Antonio and the NBA At Large

Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss what went wrong in San Antonio, how will the perception of Kawhi change after the way this year unfolded, and where the Spurs go from here.
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Even while the NBA Draft looms large, the impending trade of Kawhi Leonard features multiple facets that have permeated the entire league. First: What went wrong in San Antonio? How will the perception of Kawhi change after the way this year unfolded? Where do the Spurs go from here? Does the situation demand everyone take a moment to appreciate Tim Duncan? Where will Kawhi go next? The Lakers are the favorites to land the former Finals MVP (-140), but there are several obstacles, beginning with questions about whether Brandon Ingram has as much potential as it seems. The Kings could also get involved. The Celtics have a big decision to make. An unknown party in Philadelphia will make some calls as well. The field (Nuggets, Bulls, Knicks, Heat, Cavs, Clippers) is a real possibility. And there is always the nuclear option if the Sixers want to get crazy. Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss on the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast.

(Listen to the latest full Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

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Ben Golliver: What's that Beanie Sigel line? "Sitting alone in a four-cornered room?" That's sort of what I pictured you have done for the last 72 hours, so I finally decided to get myself together for you here on Monday morning, so we can deep dive into the Kawhi Leonard trade sage, because I know you're really anxious to do it. 

Andrew Sharp: Yea, I am. First of all, on Friday, see you are such a machine, you typically handle the instant reaction to things, because you're, like, the designated robot at Sports Illustrated. And you were out birding, embracing nature, so I had to step up and scramble and put together some semi-coherent thoughts as that news broke. And yea, look, at this point in my life as an NBA journalist/NBA fan, I am just used to processing everything on this podcast. So when you were out of commission, it was very difficult for me to adjust and get my bearings. But, we're here now.

Golliver: I'll cop to chasing a few egrets in my day, it wasn't a bad weekend. But, I saw what you wrote. I thought you had a lot of great points. I've got some sort of bigger picture philosophical thoughts on this Kawhi Leonard saga. You look at how Popovich sort of responded along the way, how this news trickled out with reporters being told officially before Kawhi contacting the Spurs with his trade request. And from that standpoint, you kind of feel bad for them. But look, this is a harsh reality. These guys aren't dummies. They surely hoped it wouldn't come to this, but it's not the end of the world. I don't think this is like the end of the Spurs dynasty and now it's going to be 25 years of ruin. If you have a great coaching staff, if you've got clear principles, if you can put out elite defenses year in and year out, you're going to be a lot better than a replacement level team or the team's that just don't have their stuff together. I think the main reason it's confusing is because Kawhi hasn't really said anything. The one thing Kawhi said in the last nine months, Andrew is, "I want to be a Spur for life." Well, how'd that go? I think the confusion factor will recede once a trade is eventually consummated, once Kawhi sort of gives his Kyrie Irving-style explanation for why he wanted out. But if you're San Antonio get over it. If you have to trade him, trade him. It's not the end of the world. 

Sharp: Wow, glass half full for the monastery. I kind of like that, because I think you can look at this with a clear-eyed approach and say, Kawhi, Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and the ghost of Pau Gasol, that was not enough to really contend in the current version of the NBA, and they were only going to get further away probably. So, I don't know if they'r really foresaking a title nucleus here. I think they were always going to be forced to make some tough choices over the next few years and Kawhi has kind of accelerated that process. And to your point, there's a good chance that they can come away from this with more value than a similarly situated team. I think they'll do better than Chicago with Jimmy Butler and Indiana with Paul George. I think they're in decent shape. But, what could have gone so wrong? I think there are two ways to answer it. 

I think in the very recent past, through most of the playoffs, it seemed like a lot of the buzz was that San Antonio would offer him the supermax and he would take it and there was more optimisim that Kawhi could wind up staying in San Antonio. And one thing that may have accelerated this, that the Spurs were prepared to offer a supermax extension, but only after Kawhi came back and proved he was healthy and invested in what they were trying to do down there. It was only 48 hours later that whoever is repping Kawhi texted like four reporters at once and we found out that he wanted out of the Spurs. 


Golliver: I think Kawhi's motivations for wanting out, I kind of want to play fact or fiction with you. Is he in a similar situation as Kyrie? He's won the title, he's got the validation, he has the individual awards, now he wants something else from his career. Is this a Shaq situation, just outgrowing Orlando? Has he outgrown San Antonio? Do you really believe that it's just sort of hurt feelings over his medical treatment as to why he wants out? You refrenced the roster around him, and I still would push back on that being something that was a major factor in his thought process. Because San Antonio, when Kawhi was healthy, won 67 games in 2016, 61 games in 2017, they almost won 50 games last year without him. So, I know it's a weird roster and you look at those deals in a vacuum, and you're like, Wow, this is not great. But, how many situations around the league are clearly better for Kawhi than what San Antonio was giving him? Outside of Golden State, you're hard pressed to find another one. For me, there's some other motivation that must be out there. I'm sure he's very frustrated with how last season played out. But you can understand, if you're Kawhi Leonard, you feel like you're a top-five guy, you don't get the respect. If you're Kawhi Leonard, at some point, that would probably get old. Why can't I just get a Jordan deal and just be a superstar? And I think some of that is what's at play here.

Sharp: It's a little bit of a cop-out to say it's a combination of all those things, but I do feel like it's sort of a number of factors pushed him in this direction at once. The roster leftover, the best thing I heard is that Pop is going to start drinking wine on the bench during next season's Spurs games because it's just going to be that dark. 

Golliver: Hey, it wasn't that dark this year. 

Sharp: It was that dark though! 

Golliver: No... 

Sharp: They beat a lot of bad teams this year because they're the Spurs and they're smart and they execute really well. Against good teams they just didn't have it.