According to Yahoo Basketball insider Shams Charania and ESPN Basketball insider Adrian Woj, Kawhi Leonard is looking to move on to another chapter in his life by asking for a trade from the Spurs. It seems insane to think the Claw could play anywhere other than San Antonio but if it’s true, Kawhi is ready to give up $70 million dollars by leaving the Spurs. Supposedly, Leonard has stated his preference would be a trade to the Lakers, and the NBA world is losing its mind with all the unlimited possibilities. From a Spurs standpoint, holding onto him for one more season and then losing him in Free Agency for nothing, makes no sense for a Popovich ran team.
Think about the Thunder the first year without Kevin Durant, a team who solely relied on Russell Westbrook and suffered mightily for it. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant, the second best player in the NBA and one of the greatest scores the league has ever seen, for literally nothing. If OKC could redo that, I guarantee they would trade KD and at least get something in return. However, the one thing holding Kawhi to the Lakers back is Greg Popovich and his famous rule, no trading within the western conference. Rarely does Pop trade within the conference, only has happened twice during the Popovich era.
Trading Luis Scola to the Rockets and Boris Diaw to the Utah Jazz, neither of these trades contained players anywhere near the talent of Kawhi Leonard. After this news broke today, coupled with all the news that has surfaced out of San Antonio throughout the 2017-2018 season, I do believe the relationship between Kawhi and the Spurs may be unrepairable and we will be seeing him play for a different team, sooner rather than later.
The issue the Spurs will run across is identical to what the Pacers went through last years offseason with Paul George. The news of Kawhi’s unhappiness hurts his trade value and if he decides to tell possible trade partners that he will not be resigning with them, it will damage his trade value even more.
Taking teams with young assets and picks such as the Kings or the Sun’s’ out of the equation, virtually nobody is going to give up valuable assets for a one season rental of Kawhi Leonard unless they’re a team positioned to win now. So teams such as the 76ers, the Celtics or even the Lakers might be willing to take that risk, hoping they can influence or persuade him to stay with their respective cores. Take the Lakers for example, if they offer a package of:
Kyle Kuzma, 25th pick in the 2018 draft and Brandon Ingram or, Kuzma, 25th pick, Lakers 2019 pick, and Luol Deng
The Spurs would more than likely take these offers, as they would be getting back great value for a perennial all-star caliber player, considering how this news shapes the market against the Spurs. The Lakers could also look to move Kuzma due to social media drama in pursuit of LeBron and a title. Kuzma is a perfect Popovich type player and Ingram has shown flashes of brilliance and untapped potential, and who better than Pop to tap into a young players potential.
These few years with Kuzma would be crucial for Popovich, as his coaching future is uncertain through 2020. Dumping Leonard also helps the Spurs long term as they won’t have to foot the bill of a mega max contract after next season, giving them leeway in upcoming off seasons as they will have cap room to bolster their roster with.
Hypothetically, let us say Leonard does get traded to the Lakers, would they then be able to construct a Big 3 of LeBron, Leonard and Paul George? The answer is yes, but their bench would suffer. As of today, the Lakers have enough cap space, $62 million to be exact, to sign two Max contracts but having three under their belt would take some finagling and work on the Lakers part.
If LeBron was to sign with the Lakers his 4-year contract would look like, a 4-year deal worth $152.2 Million and Paul George would earn a deal around 4 years at $130.3 Million. That’s if Paul George decides to depart from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Lakers have many Free Agents on their books this offseason, totaling $92.3 Million in cap holds this offseason. If they renounce the rights to all 7 of these players (Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, Isaiah Thomas), they would free up $37 million, giving them enough room for Kawhi and enough to fill out the bench with some vet minimums, which players would do to play with that collection of talent.
The real issue with their cap is Luol Deng’s contract, as he will earn $18 million dollars in the 2018-2019 season. If the Lakers are unable to convince the Spurs to take on Deng, they will have to convince another team to take on Luol’s contract, team’s such as the Mavs, Hawks or even the Nets. Freeing themselves of the Deng contract and renouncing rights. will give them enough space to do whatever they please.
Many things must take place for the Lakers to create Showtime Part 2, but if successful in constructing that Big 3, they would be a staple in the Western Conference for the next 5 years and a contender next year with the Rockets and the Warriors. We all saw how far LeBron carried the Cavaliers this 2018 postseason, imagine what he would be capable of with a team of this caliber. A superteam in LA is very reasonable and doable for the Lakers this offseason, it will just take some work on the part of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson.