The years of suffering might finally be coming to an end. According to multiple reports, San Antonio Spurs All-Star Kawhi Leonard wants a trade out of San Antonio, and the Los Angeles Lakers are his preferred destination.
This isn’t the first time an All-Star small forward in his mid-20s has tried to force a trade to Los Angeles, but the Lakers have every reason to pull the trigger on a trade this year. With Paul George and LeBron James looking for a new place to call home, a trade for Leonard could make the Lakers an immediate favorite, even more so than they are now.
With the 2018 NBA Draft less than a week away, a trade would likely have to be done sooner rather than later, going with the safe assumption that picks from this year’s draft would be involved.
Here are a few trade packages that the Lakers could put together to peak R.C. Buford’s interest.
Lakers get: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Luol Deng, Brandon Ingram, 2018 first-round pick (via CLE), 2019 first-round pick
If you were expecting none of these trades to include one or more of your favorite players on the current roster, I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you that just isn’t possible. Even in the best-case scenario, the Lakers would have to bid farewell to at least one of their promising young players.
Given that the Spurs would be trading their starting small forward, it’s safe to assume the starting point to any talks will be Ingram.
The No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, Ingram hasn’t broken out the way some of the other rookies in his draft class have, like Jaylen Brown and Ben Simmons. However, in his sophomore season with the Lakers, Ingram showed flashes of being someone who can be a nightmare on both ends if he puts the work in.
Parting with Ingram before he develops into the player fans were hoping he’d be will sting, but when you’re getting a player of Leonard’s caliber in return, those tears dry on their own.
Lakers gets: Kawhi Leonard
Spurs get: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Luol Deng, 2018 first-round pick (via CLE), 2019 second-round pick (via CHI)
If you weren’t a fan of the first trade, you might want to sit down for this one.
The biggest challenge in making any trade with the Spurs for Leonard is going to be matching salaries. The easiest way to do this is by throwing Luol Deng as salary filler, but even for a team that’s seemingly headed for a rebuild like the Spurs, Deng’s contract, which is guaranteed for $36 million through 2020 is a tough pill to swallow.
In order to soften the blow, the Lakers would likely have to send more than one of their brightest youngsters, including the aforementioned Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, who the Spurs were reportedly high on leading up to the draft last year.
Kuzma shattered any and all expectations for him in his rookie season and it doesn’t look like he plans on slowing down any time soon. Even at 22 years old, it’s not impractical to think Kuzma is nowhere near his ceiling and if the Lakers are lucky, the Spurs are thinking the same thing.
Again, it’s not going to be easy to come to terms with the fact that both Ingram and Kuzma could be playing for another team next season, but if it means landing both Paul George and LeBron James, it’s worth it.
Lakers get: Kawhi Leonard, 2018 first-round pick
Spurs get: Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Luol Deng, 2018 first-round pick
I should preface this trade by saying this isn’t technically the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario would involve the Lakers trading Lonzo Ball with no solid backup plan at point guard, unless you consider Tyler Ennis a solid backup plan.
If that is the case for you, dear reader, I strongly suggest you seek help. My DMs are open (@RadRivas).
But giving up not one, not two, but three players on rookie contracts for a player that can leave in a year is a risky move, even if it means getting out of a bad contract.
No, Ingram, Kuzma, nor Hart can hold a candle to what Leonard has accomplished in his seven-year career, but teams with no depth don’t usually don’t fare well deep in the playoffs. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers, or the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now that the season is over, the Lakers and the Spurs can start negotiating trades immediately. However, it’s possible the Spurs are holding out on hope that Gregg Popovich and Leonard can reach an armistice of sorts following their meeting, which reportedly has not yet happened.
If the two parties can’t reach an agreement, you can bet on Rob Pelinka shooting “You up?” texts to Buford and Co. until a deal is done, even if trading Leonard to the Lakers isn’t the Spurs’ top option.