How the Lakers Can Trade for Kawhi Leonard and Still Land LeBron, Paul George

Eric Pincus@@EricPincusLA Lakers Lead WriterJune 16, 2018

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) celebrates sinking a basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks onTuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Lakers have long been monitoring the Kawhi Leonard situation in San Antonio, wondering like the rest of the NBA if the Spurs would be able to reconcile an apparent broken relationship with their All-Star forward.

As Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania and others reported Friday, Leonard is now seeking a trade. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported he prefers to end up in Los Angeles:

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.

Now the onus is on the Spurs to honor Leonard's reported request. If they do, the Lakers would be one of many teams in pursuit. And landing Leonard may be the best move to lure LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Western Conference.

Naturally, San Antonio may prefer to ship its disgruntled star to the East—perhaps to the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers—rather than help build a Lakers powerhouse.

The Spurs may even prefer dealing with the Clippers, who have a lot to offer with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in the draft along with several interesting players, including Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers (the latter two have player options).

Perhaps the biggest question of all is: How willing is Leonard to play hardball to make sure he gets traded to his desired location? If his representation tells the Celtics, 76ers and Clippers that he will opt out after the 2018-19 season, perhaps he scares off the competition.

That assumes the Lakers are atop his list, which may not be the case.

They have the flexibility to use their cap room in July to absorb Leonard's salary without forcing unwanted contracts on San Antonio (specifically Luol Deng's). An uneven trade of Brandon Ingram ($5.8 million) for Leonard ($20.1 million) will be legal in July when the NBA's 2018-19 calendar year officially begins.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Or the Lakers can offer a second of their touted young prospects such as Lonzo Ball or Kyle Kuzma with Ingram, provided the Spurs take on Deng's $36.8 million over the next two seasons.

Another option would be a multi-team deal, with Deng going to a rebuilding team such as the Atlanta Hawks, who may be looking to take on draft picks and youthful considerations as compensation for assuming bad salary.

It's worth noting Leonard has a 15 percent trade bonus in his contract, which he can choose to decline.

The Lakers also need to consider the future of restricted free agent Julius Randle. Unsigned, he'll take up $12.4 million of their cap space unless renounced. Once the team goes over the cap, it can pay Randle up to his maximum at about $25.3 million.

With Deng's full salary, Randle's cap hold and a trade of Ingram straight-up for Leonard (who waives his trade kicker), the Lakers would have up to $34 million in spending power, provided they let go of all their non-guaranteed players and other pending free agents.

James, the summer's top free agent, can earn up to $35.4 million.

By waiving Deng and stretching out his remaining salary over the next five years, the Lakers could expand their spending power to $43.8 million. Trading him outright with multiple draft considerations, without returning a player, would push the Lakers' available space to $51.1 million ($62.7 million without Randle).

If James chooses to join Leonard, the team would still have roughly $16.6 million to spend to round out the roster while retaining Randle. Without Randle, that number climbs to about $28.2 million.

That's awfully close to the $30.3 million that George would be eligible to receive in free agency.

"Is George the right fit for the Lakers if they get Leonard and James?" asked a former vice president of basketball operations. "Don't they all play the same position?"

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 26:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans fights for a loose ball with Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets during the second half at the Smoothie King Center on January 26, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO U
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

If the franchise was fortunate enough to have to make that decision, that's a viable argument. Would Los Angeles be better served using its remaining spending power on a big man like DeMarcus Cousins or Jordan (if he opts out)? Cousins is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon; would he agree to a shorter, less expensive deal to prove he's healthy while playing on a superteam?

Alternatively, the Lakers can also use their cap space for additional trades, perhaps with other young players like Ball or Kuzma as bait.

There's something to be said for a star-laden team that also has energetic young legs on the roster. The opposite argument is the Lakers should look to stack their roster with ready-to-win veterans if they land James, who will turn 34 in December.

Again, Los Angeles would love to have that kind of problem to work through. It's a bit forward-thinking given the Spurs haven't agreed to trade Leonard anywhere yet, let alone the Lakers. And James has not made a decision on where he'll play next—at least publicly.

The news that Leonard wants out could spark a momentous offseason, though not necessarily for the Lakers.

In trading players like Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov over the last year, Los Angeles put itself in a position to succeed this summer.

Stealing Leonard from the Spurs would be a tremendous step toward the goal of returning to NBA prominence.


Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.


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