The Lakers are in a tight three-team race for Kawhi Leonard during free agency, and LeBron James is making sure that the team is covering all its bases to present the best pitch possible for the 2019 NBA Finals MVP.
Playing with James is difficult for many NBA players. He occupies a large share of the offense and the airspace surrounding a team, and his presence can sometimes create off-court distractions. Before the start of the 2018-19 season, there were rumors that Leonard didn’t want to play with James.
However, James has done his best to address those concerns with Leonard. According to a report from Dave McMenamin of ESPN on The Sedano Show, the fit between the two is no longer an issue:
“There was talk around the league for months going into this offseason, questions of whether Kawhi would want to play with LeBron. That issue, to my knowledge, has been dissolved. And that’s through the work of LeBron James.
“If it comes down to his decision going to the Clippers or staying in Toronto, the crux of the issue will not be whether his game can coexist with LeBron James. And to me, that’s LeBron kind of doing the heavy lifting on his part to sell that vision to Kawhi, and now there’s the Lakers’ part, to sell the organization.”
This follows an earlier report that indicated James was willing to assume a complementary role next to Leonard with the Lakers, something that he really hasn’t done throughout his career.
If the Lakers are truly intent on attracting a player who just won championship as his team’s unquestioned leader, it’s understandable that the existing stars will have to make some concessions. Leonard is 28 years old and very much in the prime of his career, while James will turn 35 next season and is starting to demonstrate some mortality. Anthony Davis could theoretically exceed Leonard’s performance next season, but he doesn’t bring the championship pedigree of the two-time Finals MVP.
From a basketball perspective, there’s no reason why Leonard, Davis, and James shouldn’t be able to complement each other. But chemistry is an important part of any roster, and James clearly understands the importance of building trust with Leonard early in the process. It’s an integral part of his recruiting pitch.
As McMenamin notes, however, the onus now lies on the Lakers front office to convince Leonard to come to Los Angeles. James has proven himself on numerous occasions, but this most recent leadership regime hasn’t. Regardless of what James has on his resume, Leonard’s decision may come down to what he thinks of the organization, and that could be a trickier sell. We’ll see if Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss can pull it off.
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