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NBA Free Agent Rumors: Lakers ‘know’ they can sign Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard in 2019

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If the Lakers don’t seem like they’re in a rush to sign 2019 NBA free agent Kawhi Leonard, it’s (apparently) because they know the Spurs forward is coming.

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San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

One of the largest NBA free agent rumors over the last several weeks has concerned the fate of San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, and whether or not the currently dysfunctional relationship between him and the team will lead Leonard to depart to somewhere like his hometown Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 2019, or if the Spurs will trade him before that happens.

There have been reports that Leonard’s family believes playing in San Antonio has hurt his marketability and that the Spurs are “worried” that Leonard’s representatives are trying to get him traded to a larger market, and all that smoke makes it seem like there has to be a fire, and the flames are continuing to become more visible in the distance.

Given such context, it’s also been fair to wonder why there haven’t been leaks about any intensifying effort on the part of the Lakers to try and strike while the iron is hot and deal for Leonard.

Well, according to Ken Berger of Bleacher Report, there’s a reason for that, and it’s that the Lakers are pretty sure they can get Leonard without giving up anything but cap space in a year:

It’s commonly heard on the front office grapevine that Leonard is eyeing the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. One of the Western Conference executives noted it’s no accident that the Lakers reportedly have shifted their free-agent plans to focus on the ’19 class (which Leonard may headline), according to Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, as opposed to a quick fix this summer.

“That’s why [the Lakers] are spinning it into ‘wait till next year,’” the executive said. “They know they can get Kawhi.”

The Lakers signing Leonard in free agency next summer is certainly a more appealing option than trading for him during the current offseason for a few reasons.

For one, signing Leonard as a free agent wouldn’t require the Lakers to send members of their young core like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart or Brandon Ingram back to the Spurs, allowing them to keep NBA difference makers on cheap, team-friendly contracts around Leonard and whatever superstar/stars they sign this summer.

Additionally, the Lakers waiting for next season would also (in theory) allow them to see Leonard play next year and determine if he can stay healthy long-term based on more than just cursory looks at his medical report.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Waiting a year would also make it easier for the Lakers to move Luol Deng (pictured above, about to get lit up by Leonard) because he’ll only have a year left on his contract if they haven’t traded or stretched it already.

However, waiting for superstars has proven to be a faulty gambit for the last several summers in Los Angeles as big name after big name refused to even take a meeting.

Maybe things will be different under Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, but they also might not be, so if the team has the opportunity to add a superstar like Leonard for just one member of their young core and they see that his medical reports look okay, it might be hard not to pull the trigger.

The last thing to remember with rumors and leaks like this is that there is always motivation behind them. If another executive can stoke fear in San Antonio that the Lakers are sitting back, sure they’ll be able to sign Leonard, it’s possible they could panic the Spurs into moving him to their team rather than risk losing him for nothing. San Antonio hasn’t spooked easily over the past few decades, but even if such a tactic increases a rival team’s chance of getting Leonard by one percent, it’s worth a shot.

For now, all of this scuttlebutt is just anonymous heresy. Until pieces actually start to move, it’s probably best to not just assume Leonard is heading to L.A. Still, it’s at the very least interesting just how much momentum that scenario seems to be building in the rumor mill.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen, or support his work via Venmo here or Patreon here.