As free agency creeps closer, the Los Angeles Lakers may be forced to roll the dice and pay a king’s ransom to trade for San Antonio Spurs star, Kawhi Leonard.
The Los Angeles Lakers ended the regular season with a disappointing 35-47 record, missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. However, the excitement surrounding Laker Nation has been centralized on this summer’s free agency. Executives Magic Johnson Rob Pelinka worked diligently to undo the mistakes of the previous front office and have positioned the Lakers nicely to enter the sweepstakes for LeBron James, Paul George and others when free agency starts Sunday, including in the trade market for a San Antonio Spurs star.
Many believe free agency does not begin until King James’ third installment of “The Decision” comes to pass. However, this summer free agency truly does not commence until the Kawhi Leonard domino falls, if it falls at all.
James has kept his plans close to the vest and has remained virtually silent since the end of the NBA Finals, offering little insight as to where he may be taking his talents this summer. He is, and rightfully so, hesitant to be the first superstar to commit to the Lakers in free agency.
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As such, the pressure is mounting for the Lakers front office to make a move to acquire Leonard before Friday when James has to decide whether or not to opt out of his current contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers and become an unrestricted free agent.
Additionally, with the legitimate threat that Paul George could re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason, the Lakers face a reality where they could miss out James, George and Leonard.
The Lakers are Leonard’s preferred destination but the Spurs are under no obligation to fulfill that wish, especially knowing that could be the one piece the Lakers need to create their superteam. The Spurs have been resistant in talks with the Lakers, effectively “shutting the door on them” when LA recently inquired about a trade.
While the Spurs are not actively seeking a trade and maintain the hope that they can resolve this debacle, they are still willing to pick up the phone and have received offers from the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers. However, Kawhi would need to reassure any team that’s not the Lakers that he would not be just a one-year rental and that he would consider re-upping when he’s a free agent next summer.
Once again, the pressure is on the Lakers. If they do not choose to make a deal for Kawhi, they run the risk of James and PG re-signing in Cleveland and OKC, respectively, or going elsewhere. While the Lakers could wait until next summer for Kawhi and hope to sign another big name like a Klay Thompson, LA has to be worried about whiffing in free agency again.
The price for Kawhi will only continue to increase as free agency approaches. While the Lakers have some intriguing pieces such as Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle (in a potential sign-and-trade), it may not be enough to pry Leonard loose from San Antonio. Especially when Boston and Philly can offer the Spurs more enticing deals than the Lakers as both teams have deeper caches of young talent and future draft picks.
The Lakers are desperate to make a splash in free agency, having failed to reel in top-tier players in past off-seasons. Magic Johnson even declared on Tuesday that he would step down from his role if the franchise could not attract superstars over the next two summers.
Just days away from the start of free agency and the Lakers are faced with one of the biggest decisions in the franchise’s history that can potentially alter the entire landscape of the league. The self-imposed deadline only creates more pressure and elevated expectations for the organization. As such, biting the bullet and accepting a hefty deal to acquire Leonard may be their best, and potentially only, shot at landing James and George as well.
Strap up, it’s going to be an interesting couple of days if you’re a fan of either team. Let’s see what unfolds.