The Clippers apparently aren’t the only L.A. team considering pursuing a trade for Kawhi Leonard during the coming offseason. According to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News, front-office sources around the NBA believe that the Lakers will also make Leonard a top target over the summer.
Leonard remains under contract with the Spurs for at least one more season, but a season-long saga has seemingly created friction between the two sides, as Spurs doctors and Leonard’s doctors have disagreed on the status of the forward’s quad injury. While there has still been no indication out of San Antonio that the Spurs will seriously explore trading their best player, teams are keeping a close eye on the situation and will be ready to inquire on Leonard’s availability.
As Deveney writes, the Lakers are viewed as a top candidate to pursue Leonard given their future cap flexibility. The Lakers are expected to have enough room for two maximum-salary free agents this offseason, but could also use that cap flexibility to sign a top free agent in 2019 or to trade for a star.
Additionally, Leonard is a Los Angeles native and at least one executive who spoke to Deveney believes that Leonard is angling to eventually land in his hometown. A separate general manager suggested that the Lakers look like the most logical landing spot if Leonard is moved.
“He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer,” the GM told Deveney. “There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.
“That’s the thing to watch,” the GM continued. “It might be a pipe dream for them to get two max guys this summer, but if they have a player like Leonard who wants to be in L.A.? They’d have to make that happen now.”
It’s hard to imagine Leonard making an explicit trade request that goes public like Paul George did with the Pacers last summer, but it’ll still be interesting to see whether the way the Lakers handled the George situation impacts the way they go after Leonard. The Lakers were viewed as a prime trade suitor for George, but there were questions about whether to give up much for him since he could sign with the team outright as a free agent a year later. Now, he’s a member of the Thunder and he’s no lock to leave Oklahoma City. Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka may find themselves in a similar situation with Leonard during the 2018 offseason, weighing just how hard they should push for a trade if the Spurs are really willing to listen.
Of course, the Spurs and Leonard could put trade and free agency speculation to rest entirely if they agree to a contract extension this July. If Leonard doesn’t accept an extension offer right away though – or if the Spurs don’t put that offer on the table at all – the trade rumors surrounding him only figure to grow louder.