Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

Tom E. Curran
NBC Sports Boston

It's in Danny Ainge's DNA to be in on everybody at every moment.

And because he's willing to constantly tinker, barter, wheedle and maneuver, the Celtics will likely enter the 2018-19 season as odds-on favorites to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

But there comes a time when you have to stop flip, flip, flipping your houses. Just settle in and live in one for a while. The Celtics owe it to themselves to allow the team Ainge and Brad Stevens conjured from relative dust to play together.

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

Especially when it comes to Kawhi Leonard.

The lion's share of the local conversation surrounding Leonard since it came out Friday that he wants to be traded and no longer wants to be a "Spur for life"  has revolved around what he can do for the Celtics and what Boston should give up to get him.

He's a "top-five player." He's a "Durant stopper." The Celtics have more than enough to go get him.

He also just quit on his team, has a year left on his contract before he can flee, and purportedly wants to play in Los Angeles.

I don't get it. How does a guy go on wildcat strike for almost an entire season, never even attempt to publicly explain what his particular problem was, and still have that messy little detail brushed away like it isn't a red flag?

Our guy Sherrod Blakely is one of those saying caveat emptor when it comes to Kawhi, but with the draft bearing down and the fact the Celtics reportedly had Kawhi interest back at the trade deadline, we are going to hear more and more spitballing about why adding him is a great idea!

All we have are intimations of what went sideways for Leonard in San Antonio. The quadriceps tendinopathy that limited him to nine games is just the root of the problem. The Spurs dodged, ducked and parried the issue all year. Leonard eventually went to get a second opinion in February. He's pissed at Spurs GM RC Buford. He's pissed at the medical staff. He's all set with his Spurs teammates who tried to convince him in March to rejoin the team during a players-only meeting.

It may all just boil down to Leonard deciding he was going to protect his No. 1 asset -- his body -- as he approaches free agency after next season. That's no sin. You don't have to look any further than the case of Isaiah Thomas and his hip injury for a cautionary tale about playing through pain and the massive financial loss that decision can lead to.

spurs_kawhi_leonard_121416.jpg

But if you're going to make the decision to sit and collect your paycheck while your teammates are thinking you've deserted them and not say anything to explain, then you have to accept that you're going to forfeit trust.

Which is what Charles Barkley said this week. "I blame Kawhi for a lot of his stuff," Barkley told ESPN. "If he wants to leave, he's got to come out and say he wants to leave. . . If he wants to leave, just say, ‘Hey, I've had enough of San Antonio', don't use the doctor's excuse . . . I think that is cowardly using the doctor's excuse. He is upset at the Spurs' misdiagnosis . . . 

"Do you think the Spurs doctors really wanted to make a mistake on arguably the second- or third-best player in the world?" Barkley asked. "They might have screwed up, I don't know the answer to that question. But the notion that they tried to do this and alienate one of the two or three best players in the world is laughable."

MORE LEONARD

Aside from not knowing when (or if) Leonard is going to be willing to play again are the factors that exist in Boston.

Their best player, Kyrie Irving, is up at the end of next season. If Kyrie isn't involved in a deal to land Leonard then the Celtics are looking at a scenario where they could potentially lose both players after next season. And they will have given up a huge asset (the Kings pick in next year's draft, Jaylen Brown, etc.) for the privilege of leasing Leonard who, it's been reported, just wants to get to LA. At that point, maybe Irving looks around and sees a Celtics team that doesn't have near the upside it did just a year earlier.

Any team that puts together a package for Leonard will be flirting with the unknown. And it's naïve to think plenty of teams aren't going to shrug and say, "Who cares? It's Kawhi Leonard. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. This is a player you bet on."

Those teams that don't have as much to lose as the Celtics. Boston can't afford to be wrong on Kawhi Leonard. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

What to Read Next