Kawhi Leonard wants to leave the Spurs: What it means for the Rockets

Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
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On Friday, news broke that Kawhi Leonard wanted to leave the San Antonio Spurs. How does that impact the Houston Rockets going forward?

The San Antonio Spurs are the last team anyone expected to go through so much drama last season.

As it turned out, Kawhi Leonard’s quad injury was worse than they originally realized. When Leonard stopped traveling with the team to seek a second opinion, rumors about a potential rift between Leonard and the Spurs started to surface. Now, everything has come to a head.

According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Kawhi Leonard has told the Spurs that he wants out. Kawhi feels like the franchise turned its back on him when he wanted a second opinion on his quad.

Also, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi Leonard wants to return home to Los Angeles, preferably to play for the Lakers. Wojnarowski also said that the Celtics will be very interested in trading for Kawhi if the Spurs decide to test the market.

Should the Rockets attempt to trade for Kawhi?

If Kawhi becomes available, the Rockets will definitely look at their options. Houston has been linked to LeBron James and Paul George for months, so it would be natural to heavily consider Kawhi as well.

The main argument against signing Kawhi would be his health. An ankle injury in Game 1 caused Kawhi to miss the rest of the Western Conference Finals in 2017. Then, a right quad injury limited Leonard to just nine games last season. It’s still unclear just how bad Leonard’s quad injury is and if he can still be the same player when he returns.

The other part would be about how quickly his relationship with the Spurs’ organization deteriorated. Over the past two decades, San Antonio has been one of the league’s most successful franchises, winning five championships and making the postseason every year.

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Additionally, Gregg Popovich is regarded as one of the best coaches in NBA history and the Spurs are a model organization. Sure, San Antonio could have handled Kawhi’s injury better, but who’s to say that Kawhi wouldn’t turn on the Rockets?

Kawhi Leonard also has a player option for 2019, which means he can opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. If Kawhi really wants to play in Los Angeles, the Rockets could end up trading assets for a one year rental.

On the bright side, Kawhi could be the final piece that lifts the Rockets over the Warriors. Leonard is a great 3-point shooter and finisher, so he would fit right into Houston’s system. Leonard is also arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA and he is perhaps Kevin Durant‘s biggest nightmare.

If the Rockets traded for Kawhi and won a championship next season, that could halt any thoughts  of leaving for LA. Of course, that’s a big if. The Rockets still have to go through the defending champions and they also have to be healthy enough to win.

If the Rockets can snag Kawhi without depleting the bench, they should put together a trade proposal for San Antonio. If the Rockets can’t land LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard would be the next best thing.

What if Kawhi gets traded to another contender?

If the Rockets don’t get Kawhi and San Antonio trades him to a contender, it could have a negative affect on Houston. According to the report, Kawhi has his eyes on the Lakers and Paul George also expressed his desires to join the Lakers last summer. If the Lakers somehow land those two, it would be the ultimate bait to lure LeBron to the Lakers too.

But it is unlikely to happen.

Gregg Popovich, who is also the president of basketball operations, has a lot of influence in the organization. According to Mark Heisler of The Orange County Register, Popovich doesn’t believe in helping Western Conference rivals, especially the Lakers.

Gregg Popovich was angry when the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to the Lakers back in 2008, which eventually helped them win two championships. Take a look at what Pop had to say about the Gasol trade, via Sports Illustrated.

“What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension. There should be a trade committee that can scratch all trades that make no sense. I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I’d like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.”

The chances of San Antonio trading Leonard to the Lakers is close to zero. The Spurs may very well trade the superstar to Boston, but that won’t change anything for the Rockets unless both teams make the Finals.

The Spurs will either send Kawhi east or they’ll trade him to a bad team in the west. There is no way in the world they’ll help facilitate a potential dynasty in LA with LeBron, Leonard and George.

Next: 3 free agents the Houston Rockets should not pursue

Even if the Rockets don’t land Kawhi, the fact that he wants out of San Antonio is beneficial for Houston. Without Kawhi, the Spurs have no shot at competing for a title, which eliminates an extra obstacle for the Houston Rockets.

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