MIAMI — The wild NBA offseason has officially begun.
Multiple reports surfaced Friday afternoon that Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio after a bizarre season in which he distanced himself from the team and organization while playing just nine games because of a quad injury.
And based on Heat president Pat Riley’s comments following the season about looking for a “transformative player,” this Leonard headline probably caught the Heat’s attention.
“Show me the right name, I could be all in on everything,” Riley said during his post-season press conference at the end of April. “You know me and Micky [Arison], but it’s got to be the right name. So, I don’t think there’s anybody untouchable on any team that’s 22 on down, if the right name comes up.”
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — “at the center of his preferences for a trade destination.” The two-time All-Star, who is from Los Angeles, will have a say in where he ends up with his contract giving him some leverage.
The 26-year-old Leonard will make $20.1 million this upcoming season, but he can then opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent next offseason. He can push interested teams away by informing them he will not sign an extension with them past this season, trimming the list of suitors to teams he wants to play for.
San Antonio is under no obligation to trade Leonard to a team he wants to play for, though. While he does have leverage because he can become a free agent next summer, the Spurs will still make the best possible deal for themselves.
Odds released by Bovada for which team Leonard will start next season with don’t even have the Heat listed as a potential destination. The sports book has the Lakers as the favorite at 5-to-7, followed by the Celtics (15-to-4), Spurs (5-to-1), Sixers (5-to-1), Cavaliers (10-to-1) and Clippers (10-to-1).
But even with the two Los Angeles teams reportedly among the top options on Leonard’s list, logic says San Antonio would rather move him to a team outside of the Western Conference. That’s one thing that works in the Heat’s favor, but the rest of the Eastern Conference — like the Celtics and all their assets — also has that advantage.
ESPN put together “The seven best Kawhi Leonard trades we’d like to see” and the Heat are on the list, along with the Lakers, Sixers, Celtics, Raptors and Trail Blazers. The scenario ESPN built has Miami sending Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo to San Antonio for Leonard and Patty Mills.
“The Heat can put together an intriguing mix of an All-Star point guard and three young players with upside in exchange for Leonard and Mills, whose outsized salary is guaranteed for three more years,” ESPN’s André Snellings wrote to go along with the proposed Heat offer.
In addition, Yahoo has the Heat on its list of the “Most likely Kawhi Leonard trade destinations,” along with the Lakers, Celtics, Sixers, Clippers, and Knicks. Yahoo threw out the same Heat trade package ESPN suggested, with Dragic, Richardson, Winslow and Adebayo going to the Spurs for Leonard and Mills.
“Maybe the Spurs have a little interest in the young players, but it’s likely not enough,” Kurt Helin wrote in the Yahoo story. “Also, how much better does this make the Heat in the short term, and if they are just fighting to make the playoffs in the East is that going to entice Leonard to stay?”
Before missing most of this past season with a quad injury, Leonard was considered one of the best two-way players in the league. He averaged 25.5 points on 48.5 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals in 2016-17 and was named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
There are still so many important unanswered questions that surround Leonard: Is he healthy and completely over the quad injury? Are the Heat on his list of preferred destinations? Does Leonard want to be traded to a team that can also acquire LeBron James this offseason?
The summer is going to be fun.