One of the strangest sagas around the NBA this year has been that of Kawhi Leonard, his mysterious injury that kept him away from the San Antonio Spurs during the playoffs and only allowed him to play in nine games this season, and the divide between the two sides that some have theorized could push him to a larger market team like the Los Angeles Lakers.
Until now, theorizing that has been the only connection, as the silence from Leonard and his camp and the Spurs reticence to clear up what was going on left tons of room for speculation about the forward’s situation, and whether or not the seemingly deteriorating relationship would lead Leonard to push for a trade (with some Lakers fans happy to take that baton and assume it would be a trade to L.A.).
It sounds like things haven’t gone quite that far yet, but according to Ramona Shelburne and Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright of ESPN, the Spurs are worried that Leonard’s representatives might be trying to create such a trade demand:
Multiple league sources also told ESPN that the Spurs have grown worried that Leonard’s group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship and get Leonard traded to a larger market such as Los Angeles (Leonard’s hometown) or New York or Philadelphia (Robertson lives in New Jersey).
But even with all the drama this season, would Leonard really be tempted to leave the security of the Spurs, who have been a playoff team for basically as long as he’s been alive?
Again, according to the strong wording used by one source cited by Wright and Shelburne, some around Leonard seem to think that relationship is already on the rocks:
Said another Leonard confidant, “They’re alienating him. They’re making him look bad. You have this seamless transition from the Duncan era to the new era, this homegrown superstar. Like, why would you alienate him?”
Shelburne and Wright’s entire report is worth a read for the full context of the Leonard situation, with as much detail as anyone has reported so far, but what does this all mean for the Lakers?
For right now, nothing. It appears the Spurs are still going to try and clear the air with Leonard, as they should. The results of that summit won’t be known until it happens, but if it just leads to further fraying, or if the outcome is that the Spurs feel as though they need to explore trades for Leonard, then the Lakers appear to be in as good of a position as any team to pony up a solid offer.
As with any potential superstar trade, the Boston Celtics and their treasure trove of future assets loom with the theoretical ability to make a better offer than any other potential suitor without gutting their team if they decide to go all-in.
However, the Lakers could offer a pretty solid package as well if they decided they were willing to include some combination of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram, along with one or two other young players or future draft picks.
That would be a steep price for the Lakers to pay, and would mean going all-in right now. They would also likely need to see that Leonard’s medical reports looked acceptable to ensure they weren’t going to be hemorrhaging future assets for damaged goods.
Still, the benefits of targeting Leonard are numerous. He might have missed nearly the whole season and led some to forget just how good he is, but this is a player who has been the best player on a championship team, won an NBA Finals MVP and finished in the top-three in the regular season MVP voting the last two years prior to this one. If healthy (and that’s a big “if”) he is likely already better than any of the Lakers’ admittedly promising young core projects to be.
Leonard would also be a phenomenal piece with which to lure superstars in free agency this summer, and if the Lakers sent out matching salary in a deal for him, they would still have nearly enough cap space for two full max contracts, and could theoretically assemble a big three of Leonard, LeBron James and Paul George for the most dominant and switchy wing rotation the league has ever seen.
All of that is a long way off, however, but for the first time, there is actual reporting suggesting it’s in play. Somewhere, Magic Johnson has to be rubbing his hands and smiling.