BOSTON (CBS) — If the Celtics want to land Kawhi Leonard this offseason, it sounds like they’ll only have their Eastern Conference foes to contend with.

That’s because according to USA Today’s Sam Amick, the San Antonio Spurs will only deal their disgruntled star to the East — if they trade him at all. The Spurs would like to send Leonard out of conference so they’d only have to face him twice next season. That means if Leonard is set on joining a Los Angeles team, the former Finals MVP would have to wait until he’s a free agent next summer.

The Celtics have been interested in Leonard since last season’s trade deadline, when they reportedly made a trade offer for the shooting guard. San Antonio had no desire to deal Leonard at the time, and didn’t even send a counteroffer Danny Ainge’s way.

But Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs deteriorated throughout last season, as he played just nine games due to a right quad injury. Head coach Gregg Popovich met with Leonard in San Diego last week in hopes of ironing out his issues with the team, but that meeting didn’t change the guard’s desires to be traded.

If San Antonio’s trade partners will now only include Eastern Conference teams, the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers would have to be considered the favorites to land the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Both teams have a nice bounty of young talent and draft picks to offer San Antonio, who could pit the rivals against each other in hopes of bulking up any trade package.

From a Celtics standpoint, it’ll be interesting to see where Ainge draws the line for a potential one-year rental. The Spurs may insist on any trade package from Boston being headlined by either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, and ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently speculated that the C’s would be “wary” to include either of those young stars, even if Leonard were open to signing a contract extension with Boston.

Chances are the Celtics will keep a close eye on the Leonard situation, but will opt to see what they have in Brown and Tatum with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward next season. But if the Spurs will only trade Leonard to a team in the Eastern Conference, Leonard’s eventual landing spot will have an impact on the Celtics one way or another.

 

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