Players as good as Kawhi Leonard don’t come on the market very often, so if there is even the slightest chance his reported discontentment with the San Antonio Spurs could make him available to the Los Angeles Lakers in either a trade or when he becomes an NBA free agent, the team has to look into it.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, that is exactly what the team is going to do, but he also reports that (unsurprisingly) they won’t be alone:
The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have interest in Leonard, each with a differing array of young assets to trade for him now and the potential of salary-cap space to sign Leonard outright in 2019.
Wojnarowski also wrote that the Boston Celtics tried to trade for Leonard last year but that them trading for him now is “far less likely” than it was at the last trade deadline.
If Leonard and the Spurs don’t see eye-to-eye on his future, than the Lakers front office would be negligent to not sniff around, and of course they have rather nebulous “interest” in him.
However, just how much “interest” Los Angeles has in Leonard, or in giving up young players or other trade assets for him, will likely depend on whatever due diligence the front office can and will do on his health situation. Leonard had an often-confusing injury odyssey with the Spurs last season, and the Lakers would surely look into how healthy he was before attempting to make a deal for him.
If he is healthy, though, Leonard is a top-five player in the NBA (at least) and with how seldom players like that become available, the Lakers would be foolish to not consider dealing one or two of their young core for him.
While it would seem to be unlikely they would include more than one of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram or Kyle Kuzma in such a deal, one of those three and Josh Hart and/or a future first would seem to be about as good of an offer as anyone is going to give the Spurs, who will be dealing from a position of weakness and likely just trying to get something for Leonard before he walks for nothing, if they put him on the market.
If the Lakers could make a trade like that this summer, they would instantly have a solid foundation for their recruiting pitch to LeBron James and/or Paul George, and although it might be tough to make the math work in a short period of time, Los Angeles could potentially suit up the most ridiculously versatile and switchy wing trio the NBA has ever seen, an instant path to competing with the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.
If they can’t make that happen, well, then they may have space to sign Leonard as a free agent in 2019 anyway. However, while signing a player for “free” is always better than giving up assets in a vacuum, given how seldom players like Leonard come on the market, the Lakers have to at least consider the idea that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Leonard is the type of player teams rebuild for, the type of top-five talent that the team can only hope Ball, Kuzma or Ingram turn into, but may never actually do so. If they have to give up a bit of their young core to get a player like that, that isn’t the Carmelo Anthony deal. Leonard (if healthy) is far better than that, and if the Lakers are really all-in on getting back to contention, finding a way to make good on their “interest” in him might be the first step, as long as they don’t let the Spurs gauge them for too many assets.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.