Even as the possibility of Kawhi Leonard joining the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency seems to get more realistic by the hour, one of the most common arguments used on national platforms to debunk such a free agent scenario is that Leonard “wouldn’t want to go somewhere and be a third wheel,” or other, similar lines of reasoning.
Now, that always has felt like sort of a straw-man argument in these quarters, as Leonard just showed that he’s arguably the best player in the world at the moment. He would seem to pretty clearly not be taking a backseat to anyone, no matter where he ends up.
But narratives are a powerful thing, and while the only thing that matters is how Leonard feels about his decision, if anyone close to him is parroting a similar line of thinking, it sounds like LeBron James is going to do his best to dispel it.
James is planning to meet with Leonard once free agency begins, and he’s already been recruiting him for a while. Sam Amick of The Athletic got some of the details on how James plans to pitch Leonard, and let’s just say that it may assuage some of those concerns that Leonard wouldn’t be the first star. It sounds like James doesn’t care who gets the credit, he just wants to put his team in the best position possible to win:
No, this high-level hoops discussion that could lead to the formation of the league’s next Super Team will be far more positive and introspective than that. James, the 34-year-old who knows full well how Leonard’s arrival would send shockwaves through the league’s landscape, will make it abundantly clear that he’s ready to start sacrificing again.
Only this time, with Anthony Davis already in tow and the wounded Golden State Warriors in everyone’s rearview for now, that means the prospect of him taking even more of a complementary role than ever before. If Leonard wants to come their way, to leave a title team behind in order to form the kind of trio that this league has never seen, then he can expect a level of deference from LeBron that we haven’t seen since his Miami days. And then some.
Now, what exactly would that level of deferment mean? Amick dove into the details of how much of a step back James is willing to take:
Want him to be the third option, a playmaker who breathes a new and different life into their games while making sure there’s enough oxygen in the locker room for everyone? Consider it done. Want him to use that third eye on the floor to make Leonard and Davis’ jobs that much easier? He’d love to.
After the disastrous debut season of LeBron in Laker Land, where he missed a career-high 27 games (18 because of a groin strain) and missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2005 after EIGHT consecutive Finals appearances, he has no illusions about the height of the stakes here or the part that he needs and wants to play. And according to a source close to James, it’s this focus on being an incredible teammate that will be at the center of his message to Leonard.
He’ll make it clear that he’s truly willing to tailor his talents around theirs. He might dispel this notion that all the recent Lakers nonsense is their never-ending norm. He’ll candidly discuss the truth about the point he has reached in his legendary career, how his age and all those meaningful miles mean that Leonard and Davis could have the keys to this Lakers kingdom long after his playing days are done.
Those would all seem to be compelling arguments in a vacuum, although it’s obviously unknown for now if they will or won’t resonate with Leonard specifically. But at the very least, Amick’s piece makes it clear that we can probably put the “Leonard won’t be the alpha on the Lakers/he’d just be a third wheel!” narrative to bed.
Another argument that James would seem to be hypothetically able to make, if it’s something he wants to say, would be that Leonard being the top star on the Lakers would actually be easier in the specific ways he probably wants it to be than anywhere else. The Lakers are the only other possible destination where Leonard would seemingly get to be the undisputed first option on the court, but also not have to deal with as crushing of a level of media attention by virtue of James and Davis sucking some of it away.
I’m not talking about endorsements, the value of which would obviously skyrocket for Leonard on a Lakers superteam. I’m talking about the stuff he clearly doesn’t enjoy doing: talking to the media before and after games, at practices and at shootarounds. Nowhere else would he be left with teammates like James and Davis that are just as relevant to step in front of those mics and let him focus on the basketball.
Maybe that wouldn’t appeal to Leonard. Maybe the self-described “fun guy” wants to step more out of his shell and take on more of those obligations. But based on last year, it doesn’t seem like that’s something he’s excited about. So if I can be so bold as to offer an edit or extension to James’ pitch, I’d potentially sell the Lakers as the only place where Leonard can have great power with less responsibility, to have his cake and eat it too.
We’ll see if that’s the direction James goes in, but regardless, what he’s already selling, with himself as a super-sized floor general that just wants to make things easier on Leonard and Davis, would already seem to be pretty compelling. Now we just have to wait and watch how it goes over.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. Here is a list of every free agent credibly connected to the Lakers so far. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.