With the Anthony Davis trade mercifully behind us (kind of), the NBA’s focus will now turn to the draft and free agency, where Kawhi Leonard will be far and away the top target on the market. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Lakers, they appear out of the running before the race even stars, at least according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
During an appearance on “Get Up,” Wojnarowski was asked about what Leonard’s intentions might be. As of right now, it doesn’t sound great for the Lakers:
“The reality is that Kawhi Leonard is focused on Los Angeles, but it’s the Clippers, not the Lakers. No. 1, they don’t have the money to sign him, and two, the idea of him being a third wheel on a team (that is) trying to create a superteam, that has not been Kawhi’s M.O. The Clippers are poised to be able to lure him from Toronto, this will be a Raptors/Clippers fight.
“In the end he may take meetings with more teams, it’s not even certain he’d even take a meeting with the Lakers right now.”
So, a few notes on Woj’s messaging that stuck out to me:
For starters, he never mentions any kind of sourcing. No, I’m not expecting him to say that Uncle Dennis has told him all this specifically, but usually, he references some kind of league source or some place from which noise is coming. And he’s always pretty particular about such phrasing.
Secondly, instead of getting into potential sourcing, he turns to analysis of the situation. Woj mentions how the Lakers don’t have space to sign Leonard, which appears to be true as of right now based on the framework of the Davis trade, but that can change through a variety of ways. Woj also talks about Leonard not wanting to be a third fiddle, but, a. after that finals, he’d have a strong case to be the best Laker on the roster even with LeBron James and, b. well... there’s this, from last July:
Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018
Yes, this was from a while ago, but we know at one point — at least according to Wojnarowski — Leonard wanted to play with James. Things do change, but we have precious little context as to how or why that shift in preference occurred.
Now, I don’t want this to be construed as me contradicting Woj’s reports. He has endlessly more information than I do and has already blocked me on Twitter once so please don’t do that again. I’m merely pointing out a couple red flags I noticed in his delivery that he’s usually very good at hitting as he offers up such a report. Even while he doesn’t specifically cite sourcing, he does say a lot of this stuff pretty definitively. There is no “I think” or “maybe” in here, he’s stating it all as fact.
If we take Wojnarowski at his word and the Lakers are indeed out on Leonard, that could potentially explain why they have seemingy agreed to execute the trade on the date they did — thus passing up the extra cap space they would’ve kept had the trade been processed on July 30.
There are other elite free agents to be had, but if the Lakers are receiving any early indications that they’re out of the hunt, then it makes more sense that they would be more open to getting the deal done early.
Even there, though, cap space is cap space. Sure, if you have enough to sign a max free agent, that’s probably the wisest path forward. But the nearly $9 million difference between executing the trade on July 6 versus July 30 would still be hugely helpful seeing as there are currently only three surefire rotation players on the roster right now. One day, it would be nice to get some actual clarity on that front.
And also, as an overall point that feels worth making here, it just doesn’t make any sense that anyone would claim to definitely know what Leonard either will or won’t do. He’s one of the most hard-to-read athletes in recent memory, and as given little-to-no inclination one way or another. Maybe that changes sometime soon, but it feels like we won’t know what he’s thinking until he actually makes a decision.
For now, though, the Lakers have to continue to work to at the very least get a meeting set up with Leonard to resolve some of the concerns he apparently has about this situation. If he’s so against the very idea of it that he won’t take such a sit-down, then it’s time to move on and figure out ways to build a roster that can contend with the Warriors (even in their weakened state), and maybe even Leonard in the same division.