Although Kawhi Leonard will not become a free agent until next summer, it feels as if he is one currently. That is because there is a great deal of speculation as to whether he will play in San Antonio or play elsewhere next season. Reports have stated that Leonard wants out of San Antonio and that his relationship with the organization is deteriorating due to the way his injury situation was handled. Because of this, Leonard recently requested to be traded, listing the Los Angeles Lakers as his preferred destination. However, the Spurs have made it known that they do not want to trade Kawhi Leonard to a Western Conference team. Several teams have made offers to San Antonio for Leonard, with the Boston Celtics being one of them.
For the Celtics, trading for Kawhi Leonard would certainly be risky, but it could reward them if things go their way. The Celtics were one win away from reaching the NBA Finals this past season without their two best players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Adding a top five player in Kawhi Leonard to pair with a healthy Irving and Hayward would nearly assure a finals appearance, and would give them a viable chance of contending with the juggernaut Golden State Warriors (or even the Houston Rockets, if they can find a way to add LeBron).
Again, with risk comes reward. Trading for Kawhi Leonard could end up being a waste, or it could be very beneficial.
Why they should
The Celtics have the assets to offer the Spurs the best package for Leonard out of any team. They have a plethora of young talent, and they also still own some good future draft picks, including the Kings’ first round draft pick in 2019, given it is not number one. To make a deal for Leonard, the Celtics would certainly have to include a future first round pick, along with some bench players such as Terry Rozier or Marcus Morris, and quite possibly a starter, which would most likely be Jaylen Brown. If San Antonio agrees to send Leonard to Boston without asking for Brown, then Danny Ainge really has no reason not to pull the trigger. However, if the Spurs request to have Brown included in the package, it will make the circumstances more difficult, as Brown is a rising star who is still improving.
If you have the opportunity to add a hands-down top 5 player in the NBA to your team, then you should certainly take advantage of it. Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best two-way player in the league. In 2016, which was his best season of his career, he averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.7 blocks per game. The stat sheet obviously doesn’t say it all about Leonard’s defense. Leonard isn’t nicknamed “the claw” for nothing, he is probably the best on-ball defender in the NBA, and with his 6-foot-7 height and 7-foot-3 wingspan, he can guard all 5 positions. There aren’t many players in today’s NBA that are as talented on both sides of the ball as Kawhi Leonard. Adding him to your team would certainly improve your overall offense and defense.
Some teams are rather reluctant to make a deal for Leonard, mainly because they believe that he will leave for the Lakers after next season, and teams generally don’t want to give up a ton of value for a player that will likely be there for one season only. But if you’re the Boston Celtics, let’s say that you trade for Leonard, and he only ends up staying for one year. Let’s also say that in that one year, he helps bring banner number 18 to Boston, which would certainly be a possibility. Would you be satisfied with renting Leonard for a year if you were to win a championship in that one year? Many teams certainly would, and it is a good question that Ainge should consider. Maybe playing in Boston for coach Brad Stevens would make Leonard second-guess his thoughts about going to the Lakers and decide to stay in Boston.
Why they should not
As we all know, Leonard was hampered with a right quad injury, which caused him to miss all but 9 games this past season. Who’s to say that this injury may not continue to linger and possibly sideline Leonard in the future? After all, in Leonard’s 7 NBA seasons, he has played over 70 games in only 2 out of the 7. If the Celtics give up a lot for Leonard, and he ends up missing a portion of the season due to injury, and then ends up leaving, then you are looking at quite a disaster.
Do the Celtics really need Kawhi Leonard? As I stated earlier, the Celtics were within a game of reaching the NBA Finals WITHOUT both Irving and Hayward for the entire postseason. If both players are healthy next season, the Celtics will almost surely be the heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference, especially considering the fact that there is a good chance that LeBron heads out West. Also, the Celtics already have Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown who all play small forward as their primary position. Adding yet another small forward to the mix, even if Brown is included in the deal, may not be the best option moving forward. With Al Horford beginning to age, it may be the best for the Celtics if they decide to keep their assets and trade for a big man in the future, rather than pursue another wing.
The Celtics have a lot to think about in the next couple of weeks, unless the Lakers or somebody else decide to make a quick move. If Leonard is healthy and considers staying in Boston long-term, then trading for him would certainly make sense. At the same time, there are many ways that it could go wrong. It will be interesting to see where Kawhi Leonard ends up, as it could also have heavy impacts on the upcoming free agency decisions, especially the decisions from Paul George and LeBron James.