UTAH JAZZ

Top NBA Players That Can Be Utah’s ‘Kawhi Leonard’

May 28, 2019, 11:17 AM
Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with the Eastern Conference Finals trophy after ...
Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates with the Eastern Conference Finals trophy after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94 in game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 25, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard has taken the organization from conference contenders to their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.

Leonard joined the Raptors after seven seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. During the 2017-18 season, where Leonard played just 9 games due to injury, he requested a trade from the Spurs because he wasn’t happy with his situation.

On July 18, 2018, Leonard was sent to the Raptors with Danny Green in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, former Ute Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first round draft pick.

It was reported at the time of the trade request that Leonard wanted to go to Los Angeles to play for either the Lakers or the Clippers. Toronto took the risk, knowing he would be a free agent during the following off-season, that he is likely a rental and not a mainstay.

Now that the Raptors are in the Finals, convincing Leonard to stay in Toronto is much easier than if they were eliminated in the postseason. We will never know how far the Raptors would go in the postseason if they had to go through LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Another example of convincing a star player to stay with an organization that was not a preferred destination is Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He spent seven seasons with the Indiana Pacers before requesting a trade with the desire to play for the Lakers.

The Pacers sent him to the Oklahoma City Thunder on July 6, 2017 in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. The Thunder had one season to convince George to stay in Oklahoma City. Following the 2017-18 season, which they were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, George signed a long-term contract with Oklahoma City.

In order for the Jazz to take the next step in getting to the Western Conference Finals or the NBA Finals, they need a transcendent player. Even if they need one season to convince them to stay or try to convince free agents to come to Utah with the cap space that the team has.

It’s clear that it would be very difficult to get a top five player in the league to come to Utah, but there are still a lot of really good players that can take Utah to the next level.

Here are some of the players that come to mind:

Klay Thompson

The sharpshooting, elite perimeter defender would instantly make the Jazz a contender in the west. This isn’t a one-year rental type deal, Utah would need to convince Thompson to join the team with the ability to pay max contract money and play alongside Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

(Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Averaging 21.5 points per game this past season, Thompson fills the need to have a consistent scorer, especially on the perimeter. What makes him even more valuable is he can defend the best guard on the opposing team. Thompson was the primary defender on James Harden when the Rockets and Warriors squared off in the second round of the playoffs.

Mike Conley

It has been widely reported that the Jazz have interest in Conley, but have not been able to strike a deal for the veteran point guard. Utah wouldn’t be able to use Ricky Rubio to strike a deal since he is a free agent this off-season. The Grizzlies point guard has two more years remaining on his current contract.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Reports indicate that the Grizzlies will select Murray State point guard Ja Morant with the second overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. That would make it easier to acquire Conley in a trade this off-season with the Grizzlies picking their franchise point guard.

He averaged a career-best 21.1 points per game to go with 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals. Conley checks all of the boxes that the Jazz need in a point guard, scorer, distributor and defender.

Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards look to be starting over after they found out that John Wall tore his Achilles while rehabbing another injury and will likely miss the 2019-20 season. If that is the case, the Wizards can get some good value for Beal, who still has two more years left on his current contract.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Beal averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game, while shooting 35 percent from downtown. He is a dynamic scorer, who can create his own shot or can spot up on the perimeter and knock down three-pointers. Along with Thompson, Beal is a very good defender and would fit the mold that Jazz head coach Quin Snyder has sculpted for the franchise.

DeMar DeRozan

This player has more question marks than the others. If the Jazz are going to go after top NBA talent, they need to have in the back of their minds “will this move help us beat the Rockets and Warriors?” DeRozan poses some concerns if that question is being asked.

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

He was involved in the trade that sent Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors. DeRozan was not happy with the move because he was happy in Toronto as he has showed the rare loyalty to an organization that hasn’t been seen much lately in the last 5 years. He has averaged 20 points or more in the last six seasons. The main concern is not his ability to score, but his defense and perimeter shooting don’t stand out. DeRozan shot 15 percent from downtown this past season and 28 percent during his 10-year career.

DeRozan has one year remaining on his current contract with a player option in 2020-21.

Kemba Walker

Jazz fans have been excited about the possibility of signing Kemba Walker as a free agent this off-season. His ability to knock down big shots and create his own would definitely help the Jazz take that next step. But, can Walker become more of a true point guard and not worry about getting his shots and sharing with Donovan Mitchell?

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The All-Star averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game this past season, while shooting 35 percent from the three-point line. He dished out 5.9 assists per game with not a lot of great talent surrounding him in Charlotte. Utah has that talent and would make it easier for Walker to be a true point guard and also relieve Mitchell’s scoring load.

The only question mark for Walker is his ability to defend at a high level. Maybe he just needs to play for a defensive-minded coach like Snyder.

Anthony Davis

This could be a stretch or it very well could not. The Pelicans won the draft lottery and will select Zion Williamson in the upcoming NBA Draft. It was reported that Davis still wanted to be traded from New Orleans even with Williamson coming in. The Pelicans are trying to convince Davis to stay, if that isn’t a possibility and are going to deal him to another franchise, Utah could be suitors. Reports say that Davis wants to play for the Lakers, New York Knicks or possibly the Boston Celtics.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Just like Leonard and George, Utah would have to convince him for one season to stay in Salt Lake City. It’s appealing with Mitchell and Gobert on the roster. Davis is a tremendous talent that can stretch the floor offensively and shoot from deep, but can also penetrate and create his own shot. On top of that, he is an elite defender, averaging 25.9 points, 12 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 2.4 blocks per game in limited minutes last season.

Could you imagine opposing teams game planning for Gobert and Davis?

Jimmy Butler

Butler has a player option this season, but after the disappointing season that the Philadelphia 76ers just had, it looks like he will opt out of his contract. After being traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Sixers, Butler has caused a stir in the locker room. It was clear in Minnesota, but how much of it was him in Philadelphia with a outspoken player like Joel Embiid?

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

He checks all of the boxes that the Jazz need to take the next step. He can score in bunches and defend the best opposing player. Utah has the money to bring him, but like all of the other talented players, can they convince him to come to Salt Lake City?

How do the Jazz get any of these players to Salt Lake City? That is up to Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

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Top NBA Players That Can Be Utah’s ‘Kawhi Leonard’