Kawhi Leonard is the kind of player for whom NBA teams should risk everything.
Almost 400 players since 2015-16 have logged at least 1,500 total minutes. Leonard ranks second among that massive field in win shares per 48 ticks, trailing only Stephen Curry. He has a pair of top-three MVP finishes to his name during that time, and his 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two Defensive Player of the Year awards continue to speak for themselves.
He is, in a vacuum, worth mortgaging the future on—a top-five talent that franchises spend years, sometimes decades, trying to draft, or sign, or acquire via trade.
But the NBA doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so Leonard’s value cannot either. His objective standing is marred and manipulated and even envenomed by the subjective.
The entire league knows Leonard’s relationship with the San Antonio Spurs is damaged, perhaps beyond repair. He will enter free agency in 2019 after declining his player option, making him either an expensive investment or one-year rental for his next team. He appeared in just nine games last season while rehabilitating from a right quad injury that remains something of a mystery, both in its severity and prognosis.
Leonard’s seesawing list of preferences isn’t helping matters. ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he remains focused on joining the Los Angeles Lakers following their addition of LeBron James. Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania refuted as much during a recent appearance on Fox Sports’ The Herdwith Colin Cowherd (h/t RealGM). He called Leonard’s interest in playing with James “overstated” and cited the Los Angeles Clippers as the more intriguing destination.
Wojnarowski has since kiboshed the Clippers angle. As he said to ESPN’s Bobby Marks on The Woj Pod: “I think initially the idea of L.A. was fine to him. He preferred the Lakers but was open to the Clippers. But now that LeBron is in L.A., I think the idea of going head-to-head with LeBron—to have you with the Clippers, him with the Lakers, and to maybe feel dwarfed by that is…I’m told that’s become far less appealing to him.”