Pressure appears to be mounting on the Lakers to make a deal for Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard before LeBron James makes his free agent decision, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, Brian Windhorst, and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com.
As ESPN’s report explains, there’s a belief that James would be reluctant to commit to the Lakers in free agency if he’s the only star headed to Los Angeles. With Paul George no longer viewed as a lock to land in L.A., Leonard may represent the Lakers’ best bet to acquire another star to help convince James to head west.
James’ player-option decision due on Friday, so there’s a race to acquire Leonard by then, per Woj, Windhorst, and Shelburne. The Celtics, Cavaliers, Sixers, and Clippers are among the teams that have made offers for Leonard, and multiple teams in that group figure to be in the mix for James too. If the Lakers were to lose out on Leonard to, say, the Sixers or Cavs, it could reduce L.A.’s chances of recruiting LeBron to L.A.
Of course, the Spurs have stated they won’t rush into any trade involving Leonard, since their preference would be to retain him. It’s possible that they receive an offer this week that they simply can’t refuse, but the Spurs likely won’t be eager to improve another team’s chances of landing James.
Here are several other key updates related to the Lakers, Cavaliers, James, Leonard, and more:
- Although the Lakers came away from their initial conversation with the Spurs feeling like San Antonio “shut the door” on them, ESPN’s trio reports that the Spurs haven’t ruled out trading Leonard to any destination in the Eastern or Western Conference.
- The Lakers have been on the lookout for a future first-round pick on the trade market and are willing to take on 2018/19 salary, per ESPN. The Lakers could keep a max-salary slot open for a free agent even if they take on some salary, and that pick could be used to sweeten a larger trade package.
- While the Cavaliers have been actively exploring ways to upgrade their roster via trades or free agency, they haven’t been given the chance to meet with or discuss scenarios with James, league sources tell ESPN. With LeBron unwilling to commit to the Cavs, it will be tricky for the front office to execute a major trade in the interim. For instance, if George were to consider picking up his player option to accommodate a trade to Cleveland, he’d want to know that James was sticking around.
- Although the Cavaliers have inquired about Leonard, they probably don’t have the assets to pull off a deal, given their competition for the star forward, per ESPN’s report.
- James is hoping to decide on his free agent destination fairly quickly, according to ESPN.
- Some league executives who spoke to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News believe that James would be willing to sign with the Lakers even if the team hasn’t made any other impact moves yet. “They’re doing enough research to suggest that he’s going to be willing to take that plunge and let the roster come together,” one GM told Deveney. “It’s what happened in Cleveland four years ago.” When James signed with the Cavaliers in 2014, he did so before the team had finalized a trade for Kevin Love.