NBA Draft

NBA trade rumors: How will Spurs handle Kawhi Leonard ahead of NBA Draft? Execs weigh in

Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (Getty Images)

Two days ahead of the NBA Draft, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich finally got a meeting with disgruntled star forward Kawhi Leonard in Southern California, hoping to open a line of communication that will lead to Leonard backing off the trade demand he lodged with the team last week. That drama figures to overshadow Thursday's draft.

But executives around the league say it's near impossible that the Spurs and Leonard can work out their differences in time for the draft, which would leave San Antonio - which owns the No. 18 pick - in limbo as the team makes its selection. Ideally, the Spurs would have a clear view on Leonard's future so that they could acquire more picks in this draft.

Should Leonard continue to insist he wants out, the Spurs have some sense of the offers they could consider - the team has heard from multiple serious suitors for Leonard, including Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

San Antonio has made clear it does not want to give Leonard to another Western Conference team, but the Spurs might have no choice. Leonard's camp continues to press his insistence that he intends to sign with the Lakers when he hits free agency next summer, putting any other team that wants Leonard into a difficult position - giving up assets for a great player who might, in the end, be a one-year rental.

That complication is going to make trade talks extremely difficult for the Spurs before Thursday's draft.

"They are not going to want to rush something like that," one general manager told Sporting News. "The teams they're dealing with are looking at too much uncertainty, and that's got to drive down the price they're willing to pay. The Spurs will have a hard time getting fair value for him, but you'd rather get quarters on the dollar than pennies on the dollar."

Another executive pointed out that it was around this time last year that rumors about impending deals swirled around stars Paul George and Kyrie Irving, and there was some inkling that those deals could be finalized before the draft.

"You can talk about trades at this time of year," the exec said, "but if they're stars, you've got to be patient. Look at when the deals for Kyrie and Paul George actually happened."

George, after being close to landing with the Cavaliers in late June 2017, was sent to Oklahoma City on July 6. The Irving trade to Boston was not completed until the end of August (delayed, in part, by Isaiah Thomas' hip injury).

Additionally, some of the trade scenarios that have been floated for Leonard, both executives noted, have been too generous to the Spurs.

"No one is going to make an even trade here," the general manager said. "If San Antonio has to do this, they're dealing from a position of weakness. The only thing they will be able to do is not be too weak here."

The only curveball in all this would be if Popovich somehow gets through to Leonard and changes his mind about his insistence on leaving the Spurs. The team has operated under the assumption that Leonard's bizarre 2017-18 season, during which he played just nine games as he healed from what many considered a relatively mild quad injury, was fueled more by his advisors than by Leonard himself. Early indications, though, are that nothing has changed with Leonard's trade request.

If, however, Leonard pulls that 180-degree turn in the next day, and recommits to his team, this saga will have been brought to a happy close for the Spurs. That's a longshot. It's far more likely that the Leonard story lingers over the draft, and beyond.

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