The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics are two Eastern Conference basketball clubs that have made significant strides this season, all thanks to their strong front-office leadership.

The Sixers are now reaping the fruits of the process pioneered by former general manager Sam Hinkie, as they have earned their way back to the Playoffs after a six-year drought. They have moved to just one game away to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

On the other hand, the Celtics added big pieces last offseason with the acquisition of Kyrie Irving (via trade with the Cavaliers) and Gordon Hayward (via free agency). Although Boston lost these players to season-ending injuries, the future is still bright for this franchise because of the terrific plays of their youngsters, particularly Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

No matter what happens to both team’s postseason campaigns, the Sixers and the Celtics are going to be major players in the offseason. Right now, none in the Eastern Conference comes close to the number of trade assets these teams have at their disposal.

And with the prospect of Kawhi Leonard’s [VIDEO] trade availability looming in the picture, these Atlantic Division rivals could be heading for another memorable showdown for one of basketball’s game-changing stars.

The Lakers are out of the Kawhi race

Mark Heisler of OC Register provided some juicy inside information about Gregg Popovich’ mindset on the possibility of trading his star player. According to the insider, the Spurs head coach would prefer trading Kawhi [VIDEO], if issues with him are not resolved this summer, to an Eastern Conference team.

Popovich has no bad meat with any NBA teams, but Heisler noted that Pop just doesn’t prefer trading its star to a Western Conference team. “It’s one of Popovich’s cardinal rules not to help Western Conference rivals, much less one with the tradition and resources of the Lakers.”

The Los Angeles Lakers have been widely viewed the favorite to land Leonard (an L.A area native) because of its rich basketball history, promising young core, and of course the opportunity of growing one’s brand in a big market.

In addition, the Lakers have the ability to add another big-time free agent with the two max slots they created through a series of trades. This would give Leonard assurance that he will be playing with another established star once he arrives in Los Angeles.

However, Heisler’s report would eliminate the Lakers from the list of contenders, thus giving the Sixers, Celtics and even Cavs (if LeBron James stays), some edge in a potentially brutal Kawhi Leonard bidding war.

Lucrative asking price from the Spurs

Being one of the top contenders for Kawhi is one thing, but coming up with the right package that would meet the Spurs’ desire is another.

While the quad injury that limited Kawhi to nine games this season is a bit concerning, the Spurs superstar still commands a King’s ransom return from any potential suitor.

The Celtics possess multiple high-picks (Future first-round picks from the Kings, the Clippers, and the Grizzlies) along with a bevy of promising young players (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier).

The Sixers, meanwhile, could trade the Lakers 2018 first rounder or the Kings 2019 first rounder (depending on the result of the draft lottery) along with the combination of Robert Covington ($10 million), Jerryd Bayless ($8 million) or even Markelle Fultz ($8.3 million).

As far as the Cavs are concerned, they could come up with a package consisting of the Nets 2018 first-round pick and a combination of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson or Cedi Osman. But again, it’s all dependent on LeBron James’ decision whether he stays or bolts out of Cleveland again.