With LeBron James “watching closely” to see if the Los Angeles Lakers can complete a trade for Kawhi Leonard, it’s understandable that L.A.’s front office would want to get a deal done. It now appears that they might have a willing trade partner, as Marc Stein of the New York Times is reporting that the Spurs are finally prepared to deal their disgruntled star:
This doesn't guarantee Kawhi Leonard is going to the Lakers this week -- since San Antonio could always trade him elsewhere and/or drag things out -- but league sources say of the Spurs: "They're ready" to move on from Kawhi— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 28, 2018
However, the Spurs aren’t necessarily pushing Leonard out just yet:
So, in the last 48 hrs, here’s what I know: #Spurs are taking calls on Kawhi, while also informing him they want him to stay. Communication is there, but he’s still of the mindset he wants out. LA is the target. A few East teams want in, but not sure they have enough assets.— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) June 28, 2018
All of that certainly doesn’t guarantee a deal is imminent, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that talks are getting frothier, with the Boston Celtics also entering the fray. Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express News (who broke the news that Leonard wanted out) also reports that the Philadelphia 76ers and LA Clippers are also options, even if the Lakers are still where Leonard wants to be:
The Spurs are fully engaged in trade talks with several teams on Kawhi Leonard, including the Lakers and Celtics, league sources tell ESPN. Boston has long had the assets that the Spurs most covet in a potential Leonard trade.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
Also, #Lakers aren’t the only player. Kawhi wants LA... meaning playing for #Clippers is also on the table. Thing is, Philly #Sixers could also be a good market for him, and he’s being told that. Not sure if Philly has enough. But right now, again, LA is the target.— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) June 28, 2018
The Spurs can still play long game with Leonard, try to repair relationship and get to a place where they're comfortable offering $219M super max. The urgency to get a deal done belongs to Lakers now, but circumstances and leverage can change quickly. https://t.co/RIralTBUe9— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
Boston's extremely cautious on Leonard front. There's so much uncertainty w/ Leonard's future -- health, free agent desires, etc. Will Leonard be same player? That's hard to tell. Celtics don't have to make a risky trade and have no intention to do so. It's an interesting dance. https://t.co/gVECzgxrYM— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 28, 2018
Whether or not the leverage Wojnarowski’s reporting makes it seem like the Spurs have over the Lakers actually exists is a matter of perspective, and depends on how desperate one thinks that the Lakers actually are to get a deal done here.
Update: It appears the Lakers might actually have more desire to get a deal done sooner if rumblings that they’re making a bigger offer are true:
Rumblings of a Godfather Lakers offer for San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard have rival teams wondering if anyone else can compete here. The latest summer of LeBron has officially begun...— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 28, 2018
Still, the Lakers’ level of desperation is likely closely tied to how real of offers Boston is making, and how clear it’s been made to them that James actually doesn’t want to be the first star to sign in Los Angeles. If the Celtics are actually a risk to trade for Leonard and James actually won’t come without him already being in place, then the Lakers do likely have a sense of urgency in these talks.
It’s not totally clear that James actually won’t come without Leonard, because not wanting to be the first star in the building doesn’t necessarily mean that Leonard has to beat James in there. The Lakers could also target Paul George — who just opted out of his contract — to pair with James, which could reduce the pressure on the team to acquire Leonard and potentially hamstring the Spurs’ efforts to get as many assets as possible in a trade.
Getting George and James in free agency, however, might make it more difficult to eventually get Leonard once teams have used up their cap space and it’s harder to find a potential taker for Luol Deng, if the Spurs weren’t willing to absorb him.
The point is that this whole situation is fluid right now, but it seems to be rapidly building towards some sort of resolution, whether it’s Leonard being dealt to the Lakers or Celtics, or the Spurs taking him off of the table for a while.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.