Lakers Rumors: Top Trade Buzz as 2018 Postseason Continues

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 18, 2018

San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard, right, drives past Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

While four teams continue their quest for the NBA crown, the Los Angeles Lakers are among the 26 already knee-deep in the offseason.

Truth be told, L.A. has been summer-strategizing for quite a while. Armed with two max-contract slots and one of the Association's better prospect collections, the Lakers seemingly have the assets to make this a transformative time for the organization.

They haven't been to the playoffs since 2013 and probably need a star or two in order to snap out of this five-year funk. It makes sense, then, that the juiciest Lakers' rumors of late involve elite talent.

              

Kawhi Leonard Planning L.A. Return in 2019?

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs drives to the basket as he gets past Brandon Ingram #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half of the game at Staples Center on February 26, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. S
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Leonard can't reach free agency until 2019 at the earliest, but he already looks like a flight risk for the San Antonio Spurs.

The former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year suited up just nine times this season while battling a mysterious quadriceps injury. Multiple reports have described growing tension between the 26-year-old and the silver and black, including one from ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright in which sources described a Spurs' fear of Leonard's camp trying to get him traded to a larger market.

Bleacher Report's Ken Berger hears that Leonard, an L.A. native, already has ambitions of returning to Hollywood and the unique spotlight it provides:

"It's commonly heard on the front office grapevine that Leonard is eyeing the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. One of the Western Conference executives noted it's no accident that the Lakers reportedly have shifted their free-agent plans to focus on the '19 class (which Leonard may headline), according to Shelburne and ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski, as opposed to a quick fix this summer."

If Leonard's interest in the Lakers is known (or at least believed) around the league, that can limit whatever leverage the Spurs had. Despite his decorated career to this point, he might not be the easiest to trade given how this past season played out and the fact he's eligible for up to a super-max contract extension before the next one.

San Antonio isn't willing to sell cheap, for now. Multiple executives told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor the Spurs "won't settle for anything less than a grand-slam offer."

Will those offers come if clubs are wary about Leonard's future? If teams shy away from bidding, would the Spurs engage the Lakers to get what they can ahead of the risk he walks for nothing? This should be fascinating to watch.

               

Will Kawhi Interest Impact LeBron Pursuit?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 27:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers handles the ball against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 27, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Darren Carroll/Getty Images

We've heard for the last year that the Lakers want LeBron James. That's probably a sentiment shared with 29 other teams around the league.

There are a number of reasons why James might not land in L.A. He could always stay at home in Cleveland with the Cavaliers or join a squad enjoying more recent success, like the Houston Rockets or Philadelphia 76ers.

One agent offered a different hypothesis—the Lakers could pass on James and wait for Leonard instead.

"He's not going to the Lakers, because they know they can get Kawhi next summer," the agent told Berger.

It's hard to imagine anyone passing up an opportunity to court James. At worst, he's the best player of his generation, a four-time MVP and three-time champion. He might be the greatest to ever lace them up—box plus/minus puts him first all-time (9.18) while player efficiency rating has him second only to Michael Jordan (27.68).

Even if the Lakers really like Leonard, that doesn't have to impact their LeBron plans. In fact, should L.A. work out a Leonard trade ahead of free agency, that might make it significantly more appealing to James.

                

Larry Nance Jr. Key To Lakers-Cavs Deadline Deal

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 22: Jordan Clarkson #8 and Larry Nance Jr. #24 of the Cleveland Cavaliers enter the game for the first time on their new home court at Quicken Loans Arena during the first half against the Washington Wizards on February 22, 2018 i
Jason Miller/Getty Images

If the Lakers fill their two max-contract slots with stars this summer or next, they might need to send a "thank you" card to Larry Nance Jr. amid the celebrations.

Nance was shipped to Cleveland in the four-players-and-a-pick exchange sealed just ahead of the deadline. It seems the Cavs wanted the bouncy big man and took back spark-plug combo guard Jordan Clarkson to make that happen.

"They made the trade for Nance," ESPN's Zach Lowe said on "The Lowe Post" podcast (via Lakers Nation). "I mean, other than the George Hill thing, which was a separate deal, they made the other trade for Nance."

Nance played a productive two-plus seasons for the Lakers, but the high-flyer apparently provided even more value during his exit.

He helped clear out the $25.9 million owed to Clarkson beyond this year without bringing any longterm money back and got the Lakers back into the first round of what looks like a strong draft.

Not bad for a former 27th pick with a career average of 21.5 minutes per game.

                  

Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are from Basketball Reference or NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball Insiders.

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