The Spurs are ramping up Kawhi Leonard trade talks and two Eastern Conference teams appear to be jockeying for position. The Philadelphia 76ers have recognized the Spurs’ and L.A. Lakers’ urgency to complete a deal, sources say. And while the Sixers have not made a formal offer to San Antonio at this time, Philadelphia has held serious internal discussions about acquiring Leonard over the last 48 hours. The front office has presented team ownership with several trade scenarios for discussion, sources say.
San Antonio has informed teams its preferred target in any Leonard trade is the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, sources say. Teams have noted this is likely a negotiating tactic, and it’s widely believed in league circles Boston is more likely to propose a deal centered around Kyrie Irving and future picks. But based on previous behavior, the Celtics are unlikely to overpay for Leonard.
Philadelphia’s internal discussions have focused on potential trade packages offering various young players and future draft selections. One team source says preliminary discussions with San Antonio revealed the Spurs have strong interest in a package involving burgeoning forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington as well as a future first-round pick. A potential, more serious offer that Philadelphia is weighing internally includes Saric and Covington and the 2021 Miami Heat unprotected first-round pick the Sixers obtained in their draft-night deal with the Phoenix Suns. “How do you acquire things that can attract stars and develop stars?” Sixers head coach Brett Brown told reporters that Thursday evening. “That pick might be the key to all of this. That pick might be the thing that links a possible trade.”
However, in trade negotiations leading up to and during the draft, sources say Philly expressed how highly it values Saric and Covington. Saric in particular is a key ingredient to Philadelphia’s budding culture, being viewed as a charismatic and overtly positive player whose energy was clearly missed within the Sixers’ practice facility when he played for Croatia in last summer’s EuroBasket. Covington is as much a paragon of the Sixers’ development efforts as any player of The Process era, emerging from an undrafted free agent to a key starter the team inked to a long-term extension last fall. “He helped us coach him to being a two-way-player, that elusive two-way player,” Brown told SI in 2017. “And now he’s for real.”
The Sixers rebuffed trade offers for Saric and Covington during an attempt to move into the top five selections of the 2018 draft, sources say. While it is believed Philly’s efforts to trade up were in targeting Luka Doncic, the Sixers made it clear to teams they were not willing to part with players they rated highly and signed to reasonable contracts. Philadelphia values the team’s assets, and the organization was averse to mortgaging its future flexibility.
Within the organization, the 76ers have acknowledged the challenges of obtaining Leonard and his looming medical concerns. Philadelphia views the situation very similarly to the end of Paul George’s tenure in Indiana 12 months ago: The Spurs have a fractured relationship with their star and Leonard’s camp has publicly postured for San Antonio to trade him.
While Leonard’s camp has made it clear the former Defensive Player of the Year prefers Los Angeles and the Lakers, a source close to the situation says the Southern California native is open to playing in other major markets. Leonard’s suboptimal contract extension discussions with Jordan Brand in March signaled the importance of playing in a larger market, and the Spurs star would be open to playing in Boston and New York, the source said. Philadelphia could pose an opportunity for Leonard to play for a contending organization in a major media market, and while he was closest with Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland, sources say, it is believed Leonard and Brown maintain a good relationship from their time together in San Antonio.