While the 2019 NBA Playoffs rumbles on, there’s still a lot of attention being placed on the upcoming free agency pool, which will be loaded with big names. One of which will likely be Toronto Raptors star forward Kawhi Leonard. While the Raptors acquired Leonard via trade this offseason, his plans beyond this season remain unknown.
One team that could use another superstar is the Lakers, who infamously missed their 6th straight postseason despite signing LeBron James last summer. While many people are dismissing their chances at landing Leonard (or most high-profile names), Fox Sports’ Cris Carter and Nick Wright offered a glimmer of hope.
Let’s take a look at what they had to say, plus the recent detractors.
Latest Rumors on Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers
Carter and Wright’s prognostication is based on Raptors president Masai Ujiri coming to Los Angeles to fill the shoes of the recently-departed Magic Johnson. The former Lakers point guard stepped down right before the end of the regular season.
“Watch for the general manager of Toronto,” Carter said, mistakingly identifying Ujiri as the GM and not the president. “If (Ujiri) decides to come (to LA), it’s going to be a package deal (with Leonard). Just watch for that, because I know Kawhi is very comfortable and happy with everything that’s going on in Toronto. If (Ujiri) leaves, why wouldn’t he be packaging the prime free agent prospect with him?”
Nick Wright responded by saying this is a theory he’s had for several weeks now.
“The day Magic quit, the day after on this show, I started saying Masai Ujiri’s name,” Wright said. “It’s not because I had some reports or some insight. It’s because it just made too much sense for a guy who does like the spotlight…going to LA, all the things they’ve done for Kawhi, Masai’s the one who put them in place.”
As I wrote earlier in the week, most people are pegging the other Los Angeles-based team as the destination for Leonard. Fellow Fox Sports analyst Chris Broussard thinks Leonard is eventually heading to the Clippers.
“If I had to break it down on where I think Kawhi will go percentage-wise,” he said on Undisputed on Friday, “10 percent he goes to the Lakers…what the Clippers have right now is (that) they’re so much better run as an organization than the Lakers. Everybody sees it.
“They’ve recruited Kawhi all year. They have people going to the games. ‘Hey, we’re just letting you know we’re here Kawhi!’ I don’t think it’s anything against LeBron, they’re friendly…but the Lakers are in such disarray.”
That report would jive with what Bill Oram of The Athletic said yesterday, which is that the Lakers are the “second or third choice” for Leonard, as well as Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
In addition, as Jared Johnson of Forbes points out, the Clippers have about $53 million in projected cap space to deal with this summer. That means Leonard is not the only star they could bring to Staples Center.
They’re currently projected to have around $53 million in cap space this summer, but if they could move Danilo Gallinari and the $22.6 million left on his deal, they would have more than enough for two, max roster slots.
If they are able to trade Gallinari on draft day (something that shouldn’t be too difficult given the year he’s been having), they could realistically go after Kawhi Leonard and one of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler.
Ujiri has been rumored to be a target for the Lakers, but general manager Rob Pelinka has also been rumored to be due for a promotion to president. Pelinka and Magic reportedly clashed. Johnson said that front office politics and talking behind people’s backs led him to resign.
If Ujiri is really the lover of the spotlight like Wright says he is, will he want to enter a potentially contentious environement like Los Angeles. If not, this Leonard to Lakers theory is dead on arrival.