Landing superstars—Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, among others—was all part of the Dallas Mavericks’ free agent strategy known as “Plan Powder.” None of them came to Dallas—Williams arrived at the tail end of his career—and it is incredibly likely that Kawhi Leonard will not either. However, he is the best player who is a free agent this offseason and a hand-in-glove fit with the Mavericks needs.
Leonard just completed another fantastic season with the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He had stunning shooting percentages of 51.2 percent from the floor, 39.8 percent from 3-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line. He even controlled his turnovers averaging only 2.0 per game. Put simply, when healthy he is a near perfect basketball player.
Listing Leonard’s strengths would be an exhausting exercise. He remains an elite defender, though the difficulty of the assignments he takes has waned over the years as his offensive load has grown.
He is an elite shooter, especially from midrange. His offensive game is fairly similar to second three-peat Michael Jordan. He simply rises up and knocks down midrange jumpers regardless of the contest.
He is also fantastic from the free throw line and could seriously help the Mavericks’ end of game free throw woes. Fans of the Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks were spoiled because we never had to worry about missing free throws at the end of close games. Josh Richardson excluded, the current team does not have that luxury. Leonard would change that.
The last area of Leonard’s game to develop was playmaking. He is still not a Luka Doncic type instinctive passer but he can leverage the advantages he creates. The 5.2 assists per game he averaged this year were a career high.
Injuries and potential headaches associated with how much special attention he requires.
Leonard has some form of debilitating injury to his quad. The degree to which it has been kept shrouded is actually impressive in the current era. He has also grown accustomed to being accommodated to over the last several years.
He will require load management.
Fit with the Mavericks
The fit is fantastic. Team USA athletic trainer Casey Smith should mitigate the physical risks as much as any team can. He would join Luka to give the Mavericks 40 percent of the All NBA first team. He is not a defensive liability, and he can even serve as the secondary ball handler to Luka.
Unfortunately, it is not feasible to field a team with both him and Kristaps Porzingis. There is simply too much injury risk and load management necessary with each as individuals to pair them. If Leonard did somehow sign here, dumping the unicorn is an incredibly easy decision.
Signing Leonard would also make the Mavericks one of the clear choices for any ring chasing veteran. Any team starting two First Team All-NBA players is a threat to win a title. Especially when both are apex predator big wings. Luka would alleviate one of the biggest issues Leonard has had over the last two seasons. Luka is a playmaker. As great as Leonard and Paul George are, neither is a point guard.
It is repetitive, but it must be mentioned again that Leonard is incredibly unlikely to join the Mavericks—he has a player option for the final year of his contract with the Clippers worth $39.9 million. The Mavericks must make Leonard the full max offer he deserves, but they cannot simply wait on him with no contingencies.
That is what they have done in the past. It has led to the talent bereft roster the team has around Luka right now. They must be making other plans as they are making him that offer. If he does accept it, it would be the justification of plan powder that Mark Cuban has been looking for for the last decade.