Fresh off an incredible NBA Finals win, Kawhi Leonard will likely be one of — if not the — first dominos to fall in free agency next week. To this point, his reported focus (especially from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) has been on either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Toronto Raptors.
While most of that remains the case, Wojnarowski did lighten up on his stance regarding the Lakers’ chances in the race for Leonard during the “Woj & Lowe Free Agency Special” (emphasis mine):
Lowe: It seems like it’s a two-team race. Is that fair at this point?
Woj: Yeah. Toronto, the Clippers, and listen, I think they’ve kept their eye on the Lakers, and what that’s going to look like. The Lakers, financially, what number are they going to get to in free agency in terms of cap space? Is Anthony Davis going to give up that $4 million trade bonus? He still has time to do that before this deal goes through.
“But this has been a Raptors/Clippers race. And you gotta give the Raptors and Masai Ujiri, that organization, all the credit in the world, because when they traded for him, he had no intention of ever staying in Toronto, and now it is a serious consideration.
“I think he has really given them every opportunity to sell him, and two things that have worked in Toronto: They sold him on health, they proved they could keep him healthy, and they sold him on winning. And those are priorities for Kawhi Leonard. He has shown he is all about winning.”
Given some of the previous reporting and analysis from Woj on this story, this is a fairly significant step in the right direction for the Lakers. It’s also funny to see people trust him now all of a sudden as soon as he’s started saying things they want to hear, but that’s another topic altogether.
For the Lakers, if Leonard’s camp is indeed watching to make sure they’re able to clear enough salary to sign him, that should be enough to kick those efforts into high gear — if they weren’t there already.
While Moe Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones might one day turn into the kinds of players who can maybe help a team, the idea that they would get in the way of the Lakers opening up cap space while they have no other avenues by which to improve the roster is pretty nonsensical. There is simply no way that should remain the case should Leonard show any interest in the Lakers whatsoever.
One reason that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention as a factor in why the Lakers should probably move those three sooner rather than later is the leverage they’d lose once teams find out how desperate they are to clear space in the event Leonard says he’d sign here.
If we’re to believe that teams around the league are unwilling to help the Lakers out under normal circumstances — as they like to point out — then imagine how disinterested teams are going to be in allowing them to open up enough space to team LeBron James and Anthony Davis with Leonard.
Leonard’s preferences aren’t likely going to be known until after he’s made his decision, which means these next five days are going to be quite long, and filled with all kinds of speculation. All the Lakers can do is focus on controlling what they can, which, unfortunately for Wagner, Bonga and Jones, means moving them to open up as much cap space as they possibly can, and hope Davis is willing to give back some money to help land Leonard.