Kawhi Leonard may have been traded to the Toronto Raptors, but that has not shutdown the Lakers rumors for 2019. Ultimately, the Lakers appeared unwilling to give up major pieces, likely Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, to acquire Leonard in a trade. The Lakers look to be content waiting until next summer to try to sign Leonard outright.
Just before the trade became official, ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported Leonard would not be happy if he was traded to the Raptors. The New York Times Marc Stein reported Leonard would still be eyeing Los Angeles even if he was traded to the Raptors.
But I did hear enough chatter in various Vegas conversations to believe that the Raptors have given legit consideration to gambling on a trade for Leonard, with three obvious problems to contend with: 1) Leonard can leave in free agency at season’s end, even if the Raptors are fortunate enough to trade for him. 2) Leonard’s camp has given no indication to any interested team that he plans to sign anywhere but Los Angeles (with either the Lakers or the Clippers) in July 2019. 3) Leonard’s readiness for next season, thanks to the quadriceps injury that limited him to nine games last season, has to concern teams in Toronto’s position as much as the idea of trading for him and losing him months later.
The Raptors traded for Leonard because they believe they can convince him to stay in Toronto. The Thunder had success doing the same thing by trading for Paul George with one year left on his deal. Like Leonard, George had the Lakers as the top team on his list. Oklahoma City may have had success rolling the dice, but that does not mean the Raptors will be able to do the same thing.
The Lakers have LeBron James and a lot of cap space to try to lure Leonard away next summer. Real GM’s Keith Smith projects the Lakers could have as much as $42 million in cap space in 2019. This would give the Lakers enough room to sign Leonard with a little bit leftover for an additional player or two. Leonard would take a pay-cut to go to the Lakers, but he already took one in the trade from the Spurs to the Raptors. The Spurs were the only team eligible to sign him to a super-max contract.
“Kawhi’s could-have-been designated veteran extension w/ Spurs: 5 years, $221.3M. Kawhi’s max w/ Raptors in FA: 5 years, $189.7M. Kawhi’s max w/ other team (aka Lakers): 4 years, $140.6M getting from San Antonio to LA now *basically* costs him 1 year and $80.7M,” Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale tweeted.
The Lakers are gambling that Leonard will be committed to coming to Los Angeles, even though he did not get traded to the Lakers. Just as the Raptors are gambling, so are the Lakers, but the difference is L.A. did not have to part with assets.
“Lakers opting not to part with assets for Kawhi is another attempt at a home-run. Kawhi is great but now LA has a chance to see how much better Ingram, Kuzma, Lonzo, Hart are playing w/ LeBron and still bring in Kawhi next summer,” Laker Nation’s Trevor Lane tweeted.