Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard (right).
- The Lakers are a -200 favorite to land Kawhi Leonard -- and for good reason. They can take on his salary, add LeBron James and likely still have $30 million in available cap space.
- The Celtics have some intriguing draft assets they could trade away for Kawhi.
- Given how patient and deliberate the Spurs are, it's not inconceivable that they opt NOT to trade Leonard.
The Kawhi Leonard saga had been simmering in accelerant for months, with passive-aggressive cross-leaking from both the All-Star’s camp and the Spurs.
San Antonio said he was cleared for activity, Leonard’s camp kept maintaining his injury was holding him back. Teammates commented with clear frustration, but no one ever revealed what the situation really was. And then on Friday, it finally caught fire.
There was a reported meeting between Gregg Popovich and Leonard in New York. Less than 48 hours later, multiple outlets reported the same thing: Leonard wants out of San Antonio.
So now the trade race begins. Of course, the next best question is, “How can you invest in this outcome before it happens?”
All 2019 NBA title odds are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
-200 TO LAND LEONARD
+600 TO WIN 2019 TITLE
This thing moved in a hurry, and, sadly, it’s probably too late to invest at maximum return here. You’re giving 1-2 with the news so fresh, and there’s always so much implied action on the Lakers that this is fool’s gold. However, the Lakers are far and away the favorites to land Leonard.
- They have the requisite cap space-filling contract in Luol Deng.
- They have the young players to send back in a deal to entice San Antonio, like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma.
- The Lakers are among the teams that “interest him” per ESPN. The Spurs will likely look for a deal that appeases both sides. If they threaten to deal him to, say, Sacramento, Leonard’s camp can make it known through media or backchannels that Leonard will absolutely not re-sign there next summer as a free agent. Effectively, they can attempt to scare off suitors that Leonard would refuse.
- The Lakers can make such a deal for Leonard, acquire LeBron James in free agency, maintain pieces of their young core and still add more pieces with roughly $30 million in available cap space.
That said, the +600 title odds aren’t great. For starters, the Warriors still exist. It would be better to wait and see if the Lakers’ odds go longer toward the start of the regular season.
There are also too many variables. If the Lakers acquire Leonard but not Paul George or James, they still won’t be a viable contender. They would have to go through not only the Warriors, in their own conference and division, but likely a Rockets team that kept itself intact and might add James. Until James decides where he’s going, there’s very little value in title odds futures.
The 6-1 number reflects a lot of possibilities, including ones with and without Kawhi and with and without LeBron, so keep that in mind.
+800 TO LAND LEONARD
+500 TO WIN 2019 NBA TITLE
The Celtics have the best package of assets to offer the Spurs. It’s a major market, a legendary franchise, and they have the type of star power and young assets to both offer in a trade and surround Leonard with talent.
- The Celtics can offer some combination of Jaylen Brown (or, less likely, Jayson Tatum), their own pick, the Clippers’ 2019 pick, the Grizzlies’ 2019 pick and the Kings’ 2019 pick.
- Brown would likely be the featured player on the Spurs — it sounds crazy on the surface, but look at his per-100 possessions stats from his second season compared to Leonard’s in 2013.
- There’s always the possibility that the Celtics decide to part ways with Kyrie Irving (the Spurs were on his original short list of destinations last summer in Cleveland), or, I guess Gordon Hayward, though it’s unlikely the Spurs take him back as a centerpiece without any games under his belt since his season-ending knee injury. Al Horford seems even less likely given his age and importance to Boston, though it would be funny if the Spurs got both Horford and Aldridge, who were picked last in the 2018 All-Star draft.
The Celtics’ odds didn’t move after the Leonard news broke. That could be because they’re longshots to land him or because this team is going to be loaded either way. Boston does not need Leonard, and acquiring him would require the Celtics to deal several of the pieces that propelled them to the Eastern Conference finals this year. The Globe reported Friday the two sides have not talked.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
+600 TO KEEP LEONARD
+2500 TO WIN 2019 NBA TITLE
The Spurs’ title odds haven’t moved since they opened on June 2, and they were surprisingly long then. There’s no value there; even if they keep Leonard, they’ll be far away from contending, no matter how much the Spurs were up in Game 1 against the Warriors in 2017 (25 points to be exact).
Keep in mind, however, that these odds are for Leonard’s team to start the first game of 2018-19. That’s why the Spurs have some value. The Lakers have been super aggressive since Magic Johnson took over, to the tune of multiple tampering charges. What if they overstep their bounds again, and either the league steps in or the Spurs simply decide to refuse to help their rival? After all:
So if Boston decides to keep its squad together, and if the Spurs refuse to help the Lakers and hold tight, Leonard might be on the roster to start the season. He could be dealt any time up until the trade deadline, though that’s an interminable wait for a franchise with a disgruntled star.
It would mean the situation simmering and stagnating for well over five months, but with how patient and deliberate the Spurs are, that’s not inconceivable when you’re getting a 6-1 return.
+1000 TO LAND LEONARD
+500 TO WIN 2019 NBA TITLE
The Sixers’ odds also did not move after the news broke. They have assets, but are Markelle Fultz, the Lakers’ pick this year, and, say, Dario Saric enough to get a deal?
Furthermore, we have a pretty clear indication that Leonard is chasing the biggest markets: Chicago, New York, LA, etc. The Sixers play in a major market but not a top one, and Leonard would be fighting for the spotlight (which presumably is part of his concern with San Antonio’s small media impact) with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both considerably younger than him.
Finally, the Sixers have no general manager after they parted ways with Bryan Colangelo. It’s hard to get a deal done when you don’t have anyone in charge of the day-to-day operations.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
+1300 TO LAND LEONARD
+8000 TO WIN 2019 NBA TITLE
The Clippers have moved from 100-1 to 80-1 inside of two months at Westgate, presumably off some sort of consideration for possible free agent acquisitions. If Leonard is interested, the Clippers make a lot of sense. Jerry West, who joined the front office last year, will want a true star, as will Doc Rivers. Steve Ballmer is looking for a new franchise player to build around with Blake Griffin and CP3 gone, and the Clippers would give Leonard the LA market without the Lakers baggage.
It’s a pretty decent flier at 13-1. The title odds are a stay-away because you’d have to land both Leonard and James to even start talking about the Clippers as a serious contender, but it is interesting to consider.
The Clippers can really only deal their two mid-first-round picks and role players; there’s isn’t as much value in that type of package as what other teams can offer.
+1000 TO LAND LEONARD
+5000 TO WIN NBA 2019 NBA TITLE
The Cavs’ odds have actually gotten longer since the NBA Finals. The idea here, obviously, is that the Cavs get Leonard and entice James to stay. The only problems are:
- The Cavs have almost no trade assets. They have Brooklyn’s No. 8 pick, which isn’t bad, but not a lot.
- They have no young assets. Jordan Clarkson is on a big-money extension, Larry Nance is still just a role player.
- Their expiring contracts aren’t all that valuable and don’t come off until next year.
The biggest problem, however, is James himself. To get Leonard on board, you’d need James’ promise he’ll stay. For James to stay, he needs Leonard on board. James won’t commit until Leonard is in a Cavs uniform, and even then it’s not certain. Leonard won’t embrace the Cavs unless James is back, and even then, who knows?
Cleveland is the opposite of everything you’d look for in a trade partner.
+1000 TO LAND LEONARD
+30000 TO WIN 2018-19 NBA TITLE
They have the No. 1 pick. That’s really the only reason we’re talking about this. It doesn’t make any sense from a Phoenix or San Antonio perspective.
+1000 TO LAND LEONARD
TITLE ODDS N/A
I can’t lie, I kind of like this one. You’re getting a 10-1 return when Chicago has crazy, short-sighted management, lots of young assets, a good pick and a reason to take this kind of leap. The Nets are short on picks but have some good young players if there’s someone the Spurs really like, in a manner similar to how Indiana really liked Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis (though there’s no one on the Nets with that kind of profile). There’s also the possibility that the Spurs take a bath on the deal and trade him for short-term return.
There are so many possible outcomes with the other 22 teams not listed that 10-1 actually has some value. Hedging the Lakers with a look at the field gives you a wide swath of potential outcomes.