Why Kawhi Leonard participating in USA Basketball minicamp could benefit both Leonard and the Spurs

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich could reunited with Kawhi Leonard at Team SA’s minicamp. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich could reunited with Kawhi Leonard at Team SA’s minicamp. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

While his NBA future very much remains unsettled, Kawhi Leonard could return to the basketball court pretty soon.

And he could do it in the same gym as Gregg Popovich.

ESPN reported Tuesday that Leonard, the embattled Spurs star who is seeking a trade out of San Antonio, is “considering” participating in minicamp for USA Basketball’s national team next week in Las Vegas.

And that team is coached by, you guessed it, Popovich.

Why would Kawhi Leonard participate in USA Basketball minicamp?

Above all, there’s one thing that is pretty clear: Leonard wants out of San Antonio. Leonard, when healthy, is one of the NBA’s best players. His combination of scoring and defense would be an incredible addition for the teams after his services, but his health has muddied the waters some.

Leonard played in just nine games last season while dealing with a nagging quadriceps injury. If Leonard shows up to minicamp and shows no lingering effects of his quad ailment, trade talks could pick up. As ESPN put it, Leonard could “showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners,” including the Los Angeles Lakers, Leonard’s landing spot of choice.

From ESPN:

Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination — the Los Angeles Lakers — or give the Spurs more cause to hold onto Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.

Leonard participating in minicamp could benefit he and the Spurs

San Antonio is looking for a big package of assets to move on from Leonard. While Leonard prefers the Lakers, the Spurs ultimately hold the cards. Other teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors have reportedly made offers to acquire Leonard.

But those teams are unwilling to part with their most significant stars, especially with no guarantee that Leonard would be anything beyond a one-year rental (before he signs with the Lakers as a free agent), plus the uncertainty surrounding his health.

With that said, Leonard’s potential participation at minicamp could be beneficial to both sides. Leonard could show he is ready to play at a level that made him one of the best players in the league. At the same time, Leonard showcasing where he is health-wise could lead teams to be more inclined to offer more in a trade.

Popovich’s presence could complicate things

A few days after Leonard’s camp made it known in June that Leonard wanted to be traded, the forward met with Popovich, the only head coach he has had during his NBA career, in San Diego. Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania reported that the meeting was “done professionally and confidentially” with Leonard reiterating his desire to be dealt by the Spurs.

If Leonard indeed reports to USA Basketball minicamp, the two would be face-to-face once again. But Popovich’s presence could ultimately deter Leonard from making the trip, according to ESPN:

The sheer volume of players (35) and coaches (nine) in attendance spares Popovich and Leonard the need to interact much – if at all – in these semi-public workout sessions. Nevertheless, there’s still a level of intrigue surrounding Popovich and Leonard in this setting and that could create the kind of media frenzy that Leonard disdains and could seek to avoid.

From San Antonio’s perspective, if the two do meet face-to-face again, it’s a chance — potentially the last — for Popovich to pitch Leonard on returning to the Spurs.

If that doesn’t work, a trade is seemingly inevitable with Leonard entering free agency after next season.

One team has a unique insight into Leonard’s injury

Leonard spent most of the 2017-18 season on the East Coast, away from the Spurs. While in New York rehabbing, Leonard consulted with Jonathan Glashow, who just happens to be a physician for the Sixers.

Could Glashow’s knowledge of Leonard’s recovery make the Sixers more inclined to offer a big package for the forward? To this point, that does not seem to have materialized. But one NBA executive offered this to ESPN:

“In some ways, [Leonard] has made it so the Sixers know more about his recovery than the Spurs do,” one rival executive said.

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