The USA Basketball team is meeting in Las Vegas later this month for a 2-day minicamp, and things are going to be very awkward, because Gregg Popovich is coaching the team, Kawhi Leonard is on the roster, and so are players from the Lakers, Celtics and Rockets, three teams that could use the weekend to recruit the Spurs star.
That’s if he shows up, at all.
This is going to be a big story for several reasons, as I outlined on my Fox Sports Radio show Saturday:
If Kawhi Leonard is threatening to sit out next season if he’s not traded – an allegation made by ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith – well then he won’t show up at USA Basketball camp July 25th.
But there are bigger incentives for Leonard to show up. Back in March, Leonard began feuding with the Jordan Brand over his new sneaker deal. Leonard wants a big sneaker deal, but Jordan Brand refused to give it to him.
The biggest shoe money is in China, and guess where the FIBA World Championships will take place in 2019? You guessed it, China. And then the Olympics are in 2020 in Japan.
Any player who makes the USA Basketball roster has the potential to see their sneakers sales pop in Asia over the next two summers.
This is where it gets really weird. What are the chances Leonard makes the team – we know he’s a Top 5 player in the NBA when healthy – if he skips this minicamp? There are already several other players who are coming off an injury or surgery – Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and DeMarcus Cousins, to name a few. Would USA Basketball really let four guys skip the camp and then all make the team?
I’m guessing here, but only two players have earned that “you missed camp, but you can still be on the team” status, and that’s LeBron and Kevin Durant, the two best players in the NBA. Kawhi Leonard was not on the 2012 or 2016 Olympic gold medal teams.
Leonard is certainly among the best players in the league, but has he earned an automatic spot when … Jerry Colangelo and Popovich are going to be making the decision?
And then there’s this, which actually could help the Spurs: What if Leonard shows up healthy and committed. Well, it’s clear Rockets players (Chris Paul, James Harden) would try to woo Leonard and ask for a trade; LeBron, too. And don’t discount Celtics players (Hayward, Kyrie) telling him how much fun they’re having.
If I had to guess, the Spurs won’t be trading Kawhi before the July 25th training camp begins.