People crave dependability. Whether it’s the precise 9:37 arrival of the bus to work, evening re-runs of Jeopardy, or even the greeting of a pet at the door, dependability invokes a feeling of comfort for humans. Heath Ledger was spot on when he said “nobody panics when things go according to plan.”
Our everyday routine is something we can count on, but the everyday affairs of the NBA are an entirely different matter. At any given moment someone can get injured, traded or fired, despite their tenure or achievements. Even stable organizations like the Miami Heat undergo drastic ups and downs; LeBron’s arrival took them to championship heights, and four years later his departure sent them to the lottery. The unpredictability of players and front offices have had 29 fan bases on the edge of their seats for years. One team, however, has separated itself from the instability of human emotion, developing a regimented strategy to success. Making the postseason the past 20 seasons, they are so consistent that the expression of “life, death, and taxes,” has been modified to include “The San Antonio Spurs making the playoffs.”
Although they will still make the playoffs, the trademark cohesion of the Spurs organization has been thrown into question. On January 22nd, it was reported to ESPN by league sources that the relationship between the San Antonio Spurs and star forward Kawhi Leonard has “cooled” due to disagreements over the diagnosis and treatment of Leonard’s quadriceps injury. Jalen Rose took the rumours a set further, claiming Leonard wanted out of San Antonio. Leonard’s reserved demeanor and his past success with the Spurs makes these reports hard to believe, but the elongation of Leonard’s treatment and disagreement on diagnosis suggest there is a degree of truth to them. If there is conflict brewing between camps, the Spurs will not hesitate to make a bold move.
Odds are the Spurs will take the conservative route and bring Kawhi back slowly; it’s the how they’ve run their organization for years. However, if these reports continue and the Spurs sputter out of the postseason, they should shop Kawhi this summer. New Orleans is desperate for effective wing players, and Leonard fits the prototype. When Demarcus Cousins becomes a free agent this summer, a possible sign and trade between him and Leonard should be considered. Cousins would be a welcoming jolt of energy to a frontcourt that has been looking like a retirement home over the past couple years – sorry Pau Gasol. Another option would be sending Kawhi to the team that drafted him: the Indiana Pacers. Victor Oladipo is no Leonard, but he’s an all-star who can get even better over the next four years of his contract. Myles Turner is an exciting young prospect that can protect the rim and is well-equipped on offense; his skills make his contract one of the best bargains in the league.
There’s a plethora of possibilities that the front office could cook up, but they should focus on getting a return of talent outside of the small forward spot. Obviously trading Leonard leaves a gaping hole at that position, but that’s where LeBron James comes in. James is a free agent this summer and considering the mounting tension in the Cavaliers locker room and front office, it seems reasonable to think he’s leaving Cleveland. Many speculate he will go to Los Angeles to build his brand, or Houston to play with his banana boat buddies. If James is serious about “chasing that ghost” however, San Antonio is the perfect destination.
James knows head coach Gregg Popovich’s style through USA basketball and respects his philosphies. No franchise is better at giving their stars the rest they need while simultaneously finishing a top three seed. James wouldn’t have lead the league in minutes or win games single-handedly like he does on the Cavs; Popovich wins games with coaching. If the Spurs made the right trade and got an equal return for Leonard, adding James to their roster could challenge the Warriors. For James, this would be the most logical move if he wants to extend his prime.
All the conflicting reports surrounding Leonard’s dissatisfaction could all just be hearsay. It seems impossible that after 20 years of maintaining excellent relationships with star players, the Spurs suddenly lost the trust of Leonard. Then again, behind all rumours is a degree of truth. If Leonard really is unhappy with the Spurs, he should be traded; they could get an immense haul in return. Until then, we just need to pretend these rumours are unsubstantiated information, the Spurs are doing just fine, and all’s right with the world.