Kawhi Leonard is a bonafide superstar. Since being drafted 15th overall in 2011 by the Indiana Pacers, and subsequently swapped to the San Antonio Spurs for point guard George Hill, Leonard has been the heir apparent to the Spurs' two-way star throne. Spurs' head coach Greg Popovich has entrusted his forward with all of the duties once held by David Robinson and Tim Duncan, but it appears that trust has been fractured. Following a quadriceps injury that has lingered significantly longer than expected and has held Leonard out for all but nine games, snide comments from teammates and a players-only meeting have been held.
Trading a player of Leonard's caliber -- a tried and true top-five player with team control for another season -- would appear ostentatious, but it's possible the relationship between the franchise and Leonard has been fractured beyond repair following speculation that the Spurs were trying to rush Leonard back before he felt he was ready. Therefore, the following three trade scenarios could be an ideal (or in the Spurs case, as close to as ideal as possible) situation for both sides.
Spurs receive: SF LeBron James, 2020 first round pick (top 3 protected)
Cavaliers receive: PG Patty Mills, SF Kawhi Leonard
This trade could easily be mutually beneficial for each team. The Spurs do this trade because they are able to pair two of the best basketball minds ever: James and Popovich. James would likely elect to stay with the Spurs for the long-haul, not wanting to hurt his legacy with a fourth city-hop. The Spurs this year have been a solid team, making up for the absence of Leonard with dribble hand-offs and countless passes into the post for forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
However, without a true paint penetrator, their offense has looked tired and mundane at times, leading to predictability. James would change all of that, with his ability to drive into defenders and create passing lanes by drawing double teams.
Additionally, this pushes the Spurs title window into a full win-now mode, as San Antonio could chase a title before Manu Ginobili (age: 40 years), Tony Parker (35), and Pau Gasol (37) retire. The defensive potential for a Dejounte Murray-Danny Green-James frontline would be through the roof.
The Cavaliers would be thrilled if this deal is available. Doing this deal means James wants out, but he felt enough appreciation and loyalty to the organization to insist a deal be made with his future team in a sign-and-trade deal. Mills is simply a salary throw-in, but netting Leonard for a player that was on his way out is a true coup. Leonard gives them a much younger superstar to build around.
A core of Leonard, Kevin Love, and whomever they select with their first-round pick they own via the Brooklyn Nets is truly impressive, all with their solid group of role players. Giving up a future pick hurts, but the hope is Leonard signs long-term and the Cavaliers stay successful, making the pick likely to fall in the late 20s.
Portland Trail Blazers
Spurs receive: SG CJ McCollum, C Zach Collins, 2018 and 2019 first round picks (top 5 protected)
Trail Blazers receive: SF Kawhi Leonard, SF Rudy Gay
Portland has to do something if they want to escape the middle-seed, early-playoff exit treadmill. After getting bounced by the Warriors the past playoffs, the Trail Blazers have looked solid this year in running an explosive two-guard juggernaut to a third-place finish in the Western Conference.
However, barring a miracle, this Portland team will likely not make the conference finals, and the issue lies in the overlapping weaknesses of their two dynamic guards, McCollum and Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers actually have a higher net rating with McCollum off the court, according to NBA.com. Giving up one part of that point-bleeding backcourt for a more defensive-minded Leonard will give the Blazers balance, and a trio to build around along with bruiser Jusuf Nurkic.
CJ McCollum gives the Spurs a chance to jump-start their offense and their rebuild. This trade would likely spell the end of Aldridge's run in San Antonio, as the Spurs get younger with potential cornerstone Collins and two first-round picks. Dejounte Murray and point forward Kyle Anderson would make San Antonio an intriguing rebuild destination, all with player development dynamo Greg Popovich at the helm.