Even though Kawhi Leonard is expected to opt out of his player option and become a free agent this summer, the Los Angeles Clippers could still pull off a sign-and-trade scenario to retool their roster around Paul George.
With the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat reportedly interested in pushing for Leonard, here are some great trade scenarios involving those teams, along with a couple other suitors who could be in the Kawhi sweepstakes.
To be clear, we’re using Leonard’s $36 million player option for 2021-22 as the placeholder in these trade scenarios to make the salaries work. He could stand to make as much as $39.1 million with a new max contract.
Dallas Mavericks pair Kawhi Leonard with Luka Doncic
- Clippers get: Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, Tim Hardaway Jr. (sign-and-trade), 1st-round pick
- Mavericks get: Kawhi Leonard
Losing so many perimeter threats on offense, and not keeping free agent Tim Hardaway Jr. will be a tough one for the Dallas Mavericks and Luka Doncic to swallow. Oh well. They get Kawhi, so that’s nice.
Although Kristaps Porzingis isn’t part of this deal, he really can’t be. Dallas would find a way to get his contract off the books in a separate trade, or just roll with him for one more season and see how he fares with Leonard and Doncic in the fold.
Whatever the case, the Clippers get some depth and defense on the wing with Dorian Finney-Smith, an explosive backcourt scorer in Hardaway, a viable second-unit floor general in Jalen Brunson and a first-round pick. Not a bad package at all. Better than losing Leonard in free agency for nothing.
One potential hiccup here is that these teams squared off in two straight hard-fought playoff series. Maybe they wouldn’t be open to doing business together. Then again, the Mavs’ interest in Leonard isn’t making headlines for nothing.
Kawhi Leonard joins Jimmy Butler on Miami Heat
- Clippers get: Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Andre Iguodala, 1st-round pick
- Heat get: Kawhi Leonard
Using Fanspo.com’s trade simulator and salary cap tools, Miami Heat restricted free-agent sharpshooter Duncan Robinson was given a recommended valuation of $23.7 million in annual salary on a four-year, $95 million contract.
In this scenario, we’re making the assumption that either the Heat matched an offer sheet for that amount from some team other than the Clippers, or just made the hardest push to sign him.
With that established, Los Angeles gets the expiring contract of Andre Iguodala — provided the Heat accept his $15 million team option to facilitate this trade — and Miami nabs Tyler Herro’s team option to include him in the package.
Leonard reportedly wanted to play with Jimmy Butler before Paul George. He’d be an excellent fit in the Heat’s culture, too, and give them a dynamic perimeter scoring threat and elite wing defender they need.
The trio of Bam Adebayo, Leonard and Butler would be a fun one to watch for Miami fans. If Herro lives up to his immense potential and Robinson continues as an elite shooter, the Clippers shouldn’t feel too bad about this deal either.
New York Knicks get a mega star in Kawhi Leonard blockbuster trade
- Clippers get: Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, two 1st-round picks (via New York)
- Knicks get: Kawhi Leonard
Getting the NBA’s Most Improved Player in Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and two first-round picks from the New York Knicks seems like a fair bargain if the Clippers are going to lose Kawhi.
Giving up two younger cornerstones in Randle and RJ Barrett who helped spark their surprise playoff run is worth the cost for the Knicks. At the end of the day, they still need legitimate star power to light up Madison Square Garden, and so few players on the planet can provide that kind of wattage.
A two-time Finals MVP, Leonard is just what New York basketball needs. Yes, there’s some injury risk, but it’s worth the roll of the dice. Maybe it’d take some getting used to head coach Tom Thibodeau’s demanding style and tendency to play his biggest stars huge minutes, but that could certainly be sorted.
The reality is, even Barrett’s most optimistic ceiling is nowhere near what Leonard brings to the court. Randle proved in the 2021 NBA playoffs that he can’t be “that guy” on a championship team, or even close to it. It’s worth getting Kawhi, and the Knicks figuring it out from there. They can certainly lure another superstar with him on the roster.
Indiana Pacers take big swing to land Kawhi Leonard
- Clippers get: Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and a 1st-round pick
- Pacers get: Kawhi Leonard
It’s not an absolutely perfect fit with this general framework of a trade, but the Indiana Pacers could tip off head coach Rick Carlisle’s second stint with a huge splash if Leonard is there to be had.
This isn’t the worst-case scenario for the Clippers, either. They get an elite rim protector in Myles Turner, who’d help solve their lack of depth and size in the frontcourt. Brogdon would eliminate the worry about retaining Reggie Jackson, because he’d be an upgrade.
Leonard in Indiana would be a pretty funny situation, considering it was the Pacers who initially drafted him 15th overall in 2011 before promptly trading him to San Antonio. Maybe Kawhi still feels slighted from that. Nevertheless, the basketball fit is tantalizing.
With Carlisle in Indy and Leonard arriving, free agents would suddenly want to go there. Pairing up Leonard with star big man Domantas Sabonis would be fantastic, and don’t sleep on Caris LeVert. He’s improved as a playmaker, and he and Sabonis averaged 4.9 and 6.7 assists respectively last season for the Pacers.