All signs seem to be pointing towards a lengthy resolution to the process triggered by Kawhi Leonard demanding that the San Antonio Spurs trade him from the only NBA team he’s ever played for, and preferably deal him to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Hot on the heels of a report that the Spurs weren't letting teams talk to Leonard’s agent yet, Marc Stein of the New York Times revealed that the Spurs aren’t even processing trade requests for Leonard right now as they sort out their options:
San Antonio’s phones are ringing. Interested teams are calling, eager to made Leonard trade proposals, whether the Spurs want to take the calls or not. But to this point they haven’t made Leonard available via trade.
This would suggest that the Spurs’ patriarch, Gregg Popovich, is sticking to his intention to try to meet with Leonard face to face to make his own determination about the depths of Leonard’s dissatisfaction and whether the partnership can be salvaged.
Update — Per Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports, the Spurs are still taking calls on Leonard even if they aren’t making him available:
How the Spurs are operating, per multiple sources from teams that have checked in on Kawhi Leonard in recent days: We're not shopping him, but if you want to make us an offer, go ahead, we'll consider it.— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixYS) June 20, 2018
And that’s where things get interesting. The subtext of the whole Leonard situation has always been that reporter after reporter has seemed to imply that his uncle (who is also serving as his agent) has been the one pulling the strings on this whole dysfunction.
That’s potentially reductive and not fully substantiated, but it seems to be an undercurrent that’s existed in much of the reporting on TV, podcasts and social media since Leonard demanded his trade — and even before while he was away from the Spurs — and Stein comes the closest to reporting as such as anyone that I’ve seen (emphasis mine):
My read is that the Spurs believe Leonard is not quite as determined to exit San Antonio as his advisers are. The team would naturally want to hear that directly from Kawhi before taking the unenviable step of putting perhaps the game’s best two-way player (when healthy) on the trading block.
Update — now that said meeting has happened, it appears unlikely the Spurs will change Leonard’s mind.
Now again, this is just Stein’s read, and to some extent mine, so the previous three paragraphs can’t be taken as inarguable fact just yet. However, Stein’s theory makes some sense, and has been the elephant in the room throughout reporting on Leonard being dissatisfied with the value of his shoe deal or wanting to go to a major market like Los Angeles. Plainly put, Leonard has always been almost painfully quiet.
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert, but when your whole brand is that you’re a boring basketball robot, then that’s hard for fans to relate to, and makes you less valuable to marketers. At least Kobe Bryant was a quotable and outwardly murderously competitive basketball robot.
It’s fine if Leonard doesn’t want to speak, but for better or worse, that’s what makes players marketable, as much if not more so than their on-court value.
Sure, coming to Los Angeles would increase Leonard’s value as a brand — and the Spurs have very much botched this situation and aren’t blameless here — but if Leonard’s reps are telling him his value is going to skyrocket by only joining the Lakers, then that’s likely wrong.
Yes, Leonard would get more endorsements by coming to L.A. and playing in the NBA’s second-largest media market for a team that doesn’t hate outward personality, but he’d have to come out of his shell a little bit to fully capitalize on that.
If the Spurs aren’t sure he actually wants to do that and is being steered somewhere with dollar signs in his eyes, it would be understandable that they would want to talk to Leonard and hear from him first. After all, Popovich got LaMarcus Aldridge to rescind a trade demand just last year, and the organization may want to a chance to see if they can fix things with Leonard before deciding to trade their best player.
A weird last calendar year between the two parties aside, a patient plan like that seems like exactly what the Spurs are going to do. That might not line up perfectly with the timeline the Lakers are hoping for, but they’ll just have to deal with it.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.