After a discouraging start to the LeBron James era in Los Angeles, the Lakers will try and pair James with another All-Star this summer in NBA free agency, where names like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard will be available. Of those names, Leonard is probably the most realistic option for the Lakers.
Last summer, Leonard requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs and reportedly listed the Lakers as his preferred destination. Since then, the LA Clippers have emerged as the favorites to sign Leonard if he decided to leave the Toronto Raptors this summer, but as Lakers fans got to see with Paul George last summer, there is no such thing as guarantees before July 1.
Until then, the Lakers will do everything they can to try and secure a meeting with Leonard this summer — something they were unable to do with George — and James might have started that process on Thursday, when the team visited Toronto.
After the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors, James walked on the court to say goodbye to Leonard and seemingly arranged plans to link up at some point in the future:
LeBron James to Kawhi Leonard:— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) March 15, 2019
“We’ll be in touch” pic.twitter.com/RMLflTFIzc
Now, this could be one of those things when you tell a friend “We should hang out soon,” and they reply with “Definitely,” but it never actually happens (Editor’s Note: Christian, we haven’t hung out, but you don’t have to call me out like this).
However, this could also be the start of a beautiful friendship between two of the most dominant players in the league.
Equipped with roughly $39 million in cap space going into this summer, the Lakers can offer Leonard a four-year, max contract starting at $32.7 million.
If Leonard agreed to sign with the Lakers, they would have two of the current top-10 scorers in the league on the same team. The only other team that has two top-10 scorers on their team are the Golden State Warriors. If (when?) Kevin Durant leaves, they’ll have just one.
Leonard hasn’t played like a former Defensive Player of the Year this season, posting a career-low 0.8 Defensive Box Plus-Minus, but he’s still capable of being a lockdown defender when he wants to be. Could you imagine Leonard, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram out on the perimeter? Teams would be forced to shoot from Steph Curry range, even if they didn’t have anyone remotely qualified to do so.
If Ball, Ingram and the rest of the roster sans James are shipped to New Orleans in a trade for Anthony Davis on draft night, Leonard would still be in play. It would come at a steep price, but it’s possible.
The Lakers may have been disappointing this season, but they’ve set themselves up to add another superstar this summer. If that player is Leonard, this past season will be forgotten relatively quickly.