This will still be the Summer of LeBron James (what else is new?), but he’ll have a co-star - Kawhi Leonard — who at least seems fond of the New York area.
The superstar forward wants out of San Antonio, according to multiple reports, and, unlike with James, the Knicks could have a puncher’s chance because Leonard would have to be traded.
Whether or not he’s worth giving up Kristaps Porzingis is the question the Knicks will have to ask themselves. Without Porzingis, the Knicks have no shot of winning a bidding war. The Spurs, the longtime haven of foreign players, are very fond of Porzingis, according to sources.
Leonard, 26, who is from L.A., reportedly prefers the Lakers, but he spent much of his self-induced exile from the Spurs last season in New York and North Jersey with his uncle, Dennis Robertson.
Not that Leonard’s desires will be the be-all-end-all. He holds significant leverage with just one year remaining on his deal, but the Spurs will ultimately make the determination of his next location, if they trade him at all.
The Lakers have greater assets than the Knicks, but would the Spurs resist trading their two-time Defensive Player of the Year to a Western Conference rival? Sending Leonard to the Lakers could create a powerhouse that could topple the Warriors if James and Paul George also jump on board as free agents.
Other teams with better trade chips than the Knicks – and who are in a better position to contend – include the Sixers, Celtics and Bucks.
The Clippers, whose assets were depleted under Doc Rivers, are also prepared to offer a trade package for Leonard, according to ESPN. The Celtics have the best young assets and could offer Kyrie Irving.
The Knicks have all their upcoming draft picks – including No. 9 next month – and Porzingis, who is recovering from ACL surgery and is likely to miss most of next season.
Leonard is eligible for a $219 million max extension this summer but he’s apparently rejecting the offer from the Spurs. If he doesn’t sign the extension, Leonard will be a free agent in the summer of 2019 and that’s his leverage. Teams that can’t get his commitment for a long-term deal would be wary of offering as much in a trade, although GMs have been known to gamble (recent examples include OKC trading for Paul George and the Celtics trading for Irving).
Leonard’s relationship with the organization soured over the handling of his quad injury, and he spent most of the season rehabbing with doctors in New York. He was living with his uncle in South Orange, N.J., while working out in nearby Florham Park, which is also home to the Jets practice facility.
Leonard’s powerplay is a bizarre twist following his rise to stardom in the 2014 NBA Finals (where he won MVP). The small forward has always carried himself as soft-spoken and unassuming, the perfect personality for a market like San Antonio. But he apparently craved more attention and a bigger spotlight. In March, negotiations with Nike on a new sneaker deal stalled because “representatives for Leonard didn’t feel that the new deal reflected the forward’s accomplishments and standing within the league,” sources told ESPN.
It was another sign Leonard desired a bigger market. Despite the acrimony between Leonard and the Spurs, there was reportedly momentum toward a reconciliation as the star was set to meet with Gregg Popovich.
But that didn’t happen. Now the craziness begins.