Rumors have swirled around his situation with the San Antonio Spurs, and now Kawhi Leonard has said he wants to leave San Antonio, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.
Leonard said that Los Angeles is his preferred city and his preferred team is the Lakers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Since the All-Star forward is under contract with San Antonio for at least another year, the Spurs will ultimately decide his next destination.
That could mean trouble for the Lakers because they’re facing competition from their long-time rival, the Boston Celtics.
Leonard wants out of San Antonio, but the Spurs, so far, have not declared if they are going to move the 2014 Finals MVP. According to Woj, if he does become available in trade talks, the Celtics will be interested in probing the Spurs about a deal.
The Spurs would be more inclined to trade with the Celtics due to their plethora of valuable draft picks and young talent. However, the Celtics reportedly do not want to trade if it means giving up a “significant part of their future core” only to have Leonard for a year since he can opt out of his contract in 2019.
Another problem for the Lakers is that, according to Chris Sheridan, there is a “zero percent chance” the Spurs trade Leonard to another Western Conference team. After the Kyrie Irving trade, last offseason, in which the Celtics improved and the Cavaliers got worse, the Spurs would likely be making the right decision in moving Leonard to the Eastern Conference.
So, how do the Lakers bypass the obstacles and obtain the two-time Defensive Player of the Year? The front office has done a good job of creating enough cap room to give two max contracts in free agency. After the 2018 season, the only bad contract the Lakers will have on the books is that of Luol Deng, who earns almost $37 million over the next two years.
The Lakers will probably need to go all out in their pursuit since the Celtics and even the Philadelphia 76ers will likely be more attractive suitors since they’re in the Eastern Conference. This means any of the young talent they have should be on the trading block, even Lonzo Ball. According to the Los Angeles Times, the 16-time NBA champions have told other teams that none of their players are untouchable in trades.
However, even if the Lakers offer Ball, the Spurs reportedly have zero interest in Ball and the media circus that LaVar Ball could bring. If they’re going to make a trade without Ball, they’ll likely have to move players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and even Deng in order to get Leonard plus another player to make the salaries match.
Even though the Spurs have control over where they trade their superstar, Leonard could possibly deter other suitors and help Los Angeles by saying he only wants to be a Laker and if he gets traded to any other team he’ll opt out in 2019.
Free agency doesn’t start until July 1, but the offseason is already heating up with rumors swirling around Leonard, LeBron James, Paul George and a potential super team in Los Angeles.