Kawhi Leonard to the Miami Heat.
How’s that for getting right to the point?
Kawhi Leonard to Miami demands a skeptical question mark at the moment, but that could turn to an exclamation point by this summer if the smoke out there becomes a fire involving the Heat.
This is what sports has become. How it has evolved through the years for both fans and media. It’s less and less about what is and more and more about what’s next. The result of a given game is seldom as big or important as where your team is headed. In the draft. In trades. In free agency.
What’s next? As players broker increasing power, and more so in the NBA than in other sports, the landscape is in constant flux. Smart teams (or lucky ones) are one seismic move from instant relevance and championship contention.
So: Leonard to the Heat? It exists for now in that murky world where rumor and speculation are in a Petri dish and might or might not grow into eventual truth. But the possibility of it, the plausibility, is so tantalizing as to demand a public airing.
It is the whim of one player from happening. From giving Miami a Big 3 era 2.0 with Kawhi, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Though it still may loom unlikely, It feels like there could be a legit chance this time.
Just Wednesday, The Athletic reported, “While this league has certainly taught us to expect the unexpected, the truth is that Leonard is still widely expected to re-sign with the Clippers.”
But others don’t seem so sure of that.
Heat president Pat Riley, at 76, is cast in this drama as Santiago, the fisherman in Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” Santiago was obsessed with a giant marlin. Riley prefers whales.
We have seen in recent years his lines cast in expeditions involving Kevin Durant and then James Harden and then (until he signed an extension with Milwaukee) Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Miami landing those whales never seemed likely.
To some, now feels different.
Leonard is in his second season with the Los Angeles Clippers but has a player option allowing him to become a free agent this summer. The Clippers fizzled in the playoffs last season and Leonard’s chemistry with Paul George has not always seemed a great fit. If LAC fails again to make a title run there is talk Kawhi might leave.
Writer Evan Massey of NBA Analysis Network quoted an agent saying Leonard would be “intrigued” by Miami.
“Joining forces with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo is something [Leonard] would absolutely have interest in,” said that source.
On the “Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” this Tuesday (with me on as guest co-host), ESPN NBA insider Amin Elhassan said of Leonard-to-Miami: “It’s logical that he would explore that option.”
Leonard is a tier-1 superstar in his prime at 29, a 6-7 forward averaging 25.8 points and shooting almost 40 percent on 3’s. A five-time all star. Two-time champion. Twice the Defensive Player of the Year.
He also is a selfless star all about winning, a dovetail fit for Heat Culture. He just watched Butler, Adebayo and a strong supporting cast reach the NBA Finals while his own team, an assembly of B-listers after Leonard and George, fell short.
Leonard has wanted to play with Butler — tried to recruit him for the Clippers in the summer of ‘19. Only when Butler signed with Miami did Leonard then turn sights to George.
Miami swung a trade-deadline deal to land Victor Oladipo, a nice, sizable fish but far from the whale Leonard is. And with Oladipo able to leave after this season in free agency, Miami expects to have ample cap space to try to boat Leonard if he’s out there in open waters. Even if Oladipo re-signed there would still be room to sign Leonard and give the Heat a Big 3 1/2.
That, augmented by the likes of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic, would form a roster to make Miami championship-formidable on both ends of the court to a level not seen down here since before LeBron James took his talents elsewhere in the summer of 2014.
The Heat hosts the Lakers on Thursday night. No LeBron or Anthony Davis, though; both remain out injured.
Funny enough, LeBron, whose Lakers beat Miami in the 2020 Finals, would lkely have a role in Leonard possibly opting out and perhaps joining the Heat. It could happen if Leonard continues to see LeBron and A.D. as a championship roadblock for him and George — but thinks he would have a better title shot alongside Butler and Bam, et al.
It is far from inconceivable. Anything less than a Clippers championship could set the wheels in motion.
It is out there somewhere, that giant whale. Can’t quite see it from Miami yet, but it is out there.
(Greg Cote is a columnist for the Miami Herald.)
©2021 Miami Herald. Visit at miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.