LeBron James has committed to the Los Angeles Lakers, and many fans are wondering if Magic Johnson can also get Kawhi Leonard. It is possible under the salary cap for the Lakers to now trade for Leonard, while still saving the necessary cap space to also sign James.
The big question is whether the Spurs are willing to acquiesce to Leonard’s desire to play in Los Angeles. The Lakers will have to make it clear they are prepared to make the best offer the Spurs will receive. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported Leonard is prepared to sit out all of next season if the Spurs do not make a trade. Smith also reported the Lakers may move on to other options if they cannot reach a deal by Monday, July 2.
According to Spotrac, Leonard is set to make about $20 million next season, and the Spurs will need to take on similar salaries to be able to make the trade work under the current salary cap. This means if the Lakers were to trade for Leonard it would have little impact on their salary cap number for the coming season, but it would impact future seasons as Leonard’s salary number is likely to rise on a new deal.
To get the Spurs to seriously consider a deal, the Lakers likely need to provide some combination of draft picks, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. It is hard to fathom a potential deal to work under the cap without the Lakers including Luol Deng’s salary, but the Spurs are unlikely to want to take on his bloated contract. The Lakers may need to find a third team to make the trade realistically work for both parties.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Leonard’s top option remains the Lakers, especially with James signing with the team. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported the Sixers are also in play to acquire Leonard.
“Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker,” Wojnarowski tweeted.
The Spurs are likely to use their trade talks with the Sixers as leverage for the Lakers to sweeten their proposals. ESPN’s Ian Begley reported the Sixers are very much in play for Leonard, and the star forward could be willing to commit to Philly long-term.
“On the Sixers and a potential trade for Kawhi Leonard, it’s worth noting that there are several people with Philadelphia who feel confident that Leonard would strongly consider re-signing there next summer if they traded for him,” Begley tweeted.
Leonard is scheduled to make $21.32 million during the 2019-20 season, but has a player option he can use next summer. Leonard is trying to force the Spurs hand, by publicly emphasizing his desire to play for the Lakers. Other teams may be reluctant to trade for Leonard knowing he could end up being a one-year rental.
While the Lakers may be in a hurry to make a decision on Leonard so they can move on in free agency, the Spurs have little motivation to be in a rush unless the Lakers offer a massive deal in return. San Antonio can also use Paul George as proof that a player can have a change of heart after a trade.
Like Leonard, George wanted to go to Los Angeles, and informed the Pacers of this desire. Oklahoma City took a chance by trading away young assets like Victor Oladipo for a chance to convince George (who had just one year on his current contract) to consider committing to the Thunder long-term. Rather than going to Los Angeles, George ended up announcing he was re-signing with the Thunder at the beginning of the 2018 free agency period.
Here’s what a Lakers team could look like with both James and Leonard.
Lakers Roster & Starting Lineup With LeBron James & Kawhi Leonard for 2018-19
C- Mo Wagner, Ivica Zubac
PF- LeBron James, Isaac Bonga
SF- Kawhi Leonard, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk
SG- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (UFA), Josh Hart
PG- Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Malik Newman
Lakers free agents: Brook Lopez (UFA), Channing Frye (UFA), Travis Wear (RFA), Andre Ingram (RFA), Gary Payton II (RFA), Isaiah Thomas (UFA)
The Lakers would still be in the market for a veteran big man, and depth to fill out their roster. There are no shortage of players that would want to team up with James and Leonard, even if it meant signing for a discount. James is not a natural power forward, but there has been chatter that he would like to play more without the ball, potentially prolonging his career.