As this entire Kawhi Leonard trade demand situation has gone on, the San Antonio Spurs have fairly desperately tried to create any leverage they possibly can. It’s their only option, really. RC Buford and Gregg Popovich won’t like what they hear from Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.
Ainge was asked about the possibility of other moves at the introductory press conference for Robert Williams Friday and had this to say, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN.
“If I feel like it’ll help our team -- we explore every trade of players of certain magnitude or superstar, first-ballot Hall of Fame-type of players. We’re going to take a look and kick the tires and see if there’s something there. But that’s all.
”I think those things are unlikely.”
Boston and their treasure trove of potential trade assets always made sense as a means by which the Spurs could help manufacture for themselves a better trade offer for Leonard. Aside from pieces like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or any of the picks at their disposal, San Antonio might’ve thought they could take advantage of Magic Johnson’s competitive nature by bringing the hated Celtics into the conversation.
Without Boston, though, and with the Philadelphia 76ers reluctant to include Markelle Fultz in any package for Leonard, there simply isn’t a market out there to play against the Lakers and force them into making a better offer.
The question then becomes where the Lakers draw the line in the sand. Johnson and Rob Pelinka don’t want to insult the Spurs with an offer that ends negotiations before they gain any foothold, but they also don’t want to offer up any valuable assets without necessarily having to.
This is purely speculation, but while we’re on the topic of leverage in these negotiations, one pervasive narrative has been that the Lakers might feel pressure to make a deal for Leonard out of fear that LeBron might spurn them without guarantee of that immediate help. I found it interesting, then, that reports started floating out there that James’ decision was going to be made separate from whoever might be joining him in L.A.
Perhaps LeBron is doing whatever he can behind the scenes to ensure the team he prefers (the Lakers, in this hypothetical) lands the help he desires (Kawhi) without emptying their cupboard of assets? There’s no way to know now, but the timing of everything was... interesting, let’s just say.
In Ainge’s case, there might also be value in helping Kawhi get to Los Angeles and all but guarantee James joins him there. With LeBron in the western conference, Ainge and the Celtics’ route to the NBA Finals gets a helluva lot clearer.
This is all subject to change, but for now, things are lining up in the Lakers’ favor.