Kawhi Leonard could be the single biggest determining factor in where LeBron ends up next year. There has been speculation all season that Leonard and the Spurs were headed for a break up. News broke last week that Leonard had finally asked for a trade, and the Los Angeles Lakers are at the top on his list of desired trade destinations. This immediately thrust the Lakers back into the spotlight, and top of the list of most eligible destinations for LeBron this summer too. L.A. could potentially trade for Leonard, and still have enough money to sign both LeBron and Paul George in Free Agency. Recent reports out of Cleveland suggest that the Cavs are also mustering up a trade proposal to the Spurs. They’d be foolish not to. Landing Leonard would certainly be enough to help convince LeBron to stay home in Cleveland, at least for one more year (the length of Leonard’s current contract). Regardless of whether it’s in Cleveland, Los Angeles or somewhere else, Leonard could be the best player LeBron has ever teamed up with.
This post-season showcased how bad LeBron’s current supporting cast was. That hasn’t always been the case. Throughout his career LeBron has had the opportunity to play with some pretty incredible players: Shaquille O’Neal, Antwan Jamison, Ray Allen, Kevin Love, and Chris Bosh just to name a few. One could argue that a young Kyrie Irving is the best talent he’s had the luxury to play with, but I think Dwyane Wade sets the bar as far as talented teammates go.
So it comes down to whether you think a 26 year-old Leonard would be an even better fit with “the King”, than a 28 year-old Wade was. He would be joining Leonard at a very similar time in his career to where Wade was when they joined forces in 2010. Before recruiting LeBron, Wade had won a championship and a Finals MVP. Leonard has the very same experience at this point in his career.
LeBron joined Wade after he underwent multiple knee and shoulder surgeries. He wasn’t the same dynamic player as when we won Finals MVP in ’06. He still had some great basketball to play in his career, but it came more in flashes, he was no longer “the Flash.” Leonard has pretty much sat out this entire season rehabbing his right quadriceps injury. Even though the Spurs team doctors cleared him to play, Leonard opted for a second opinion and more rehab. Like Wade he has some mileage on his body, but he would be two years younger than Wade was and closer to his prime.
Keep in mind, Wade’s tail end of his prime lasted the first three years of the Heat’s “Big Three” but ended abruptly in the 2014 Finals where he could no longer drive past his defender in game three.
D-Wade has the better all-time career resume and averaged more points before a pairing with James than Kawhi has, but Leonard could be a better fit alongside James. Leonard is use to being part of a great team, has experience playing with another all-time NBA talent (Tim Duncan), he’s comfortable and actually prefers to play second fiddle. He is a better shooter, period – higher field goal, three-point, and free throw percentage. He’s also a better rebounder and defensive player, already winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards. He can shut down the opposing team’s best player, knock down spot up three-pointers, rebound and get the ball in transition. The one place Leonard could improve is getting others involved with his assists. That is LeBron’s bread and butter. He does everything LeBron wants in a teammate and possesses that very rare basketball IQ LeBron was adamant about in his final post-game conference after game 4 of the Finals.
If I were starting a franchise from scratch I would take Wade, because I believe he is a better overall talent and I’ve witnessed the entirety of his career. He is also one of the top five shooting guards of all time too. I think Leonard would a better compliment to LeBron though. Leonard does absolutely everything LeBron wants in a teammate – smart, tough, he can space the floor with his threes like LeBron prefers, takes a lot of pressure off of an aging LeBron on the defensive end, and you can run the ball through him on the offensive side when James is on the bench. He could compliment LeBron to same way Scottie Pippen did Michael Jordan. At this juncture in his career Leonard would be the best player LeBron has played with, and will play a big part in his decision this summer.