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Lakers Rumors: Latest on Possible Kawhi Leonard Trade and Draft Plans

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJune 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

It seems like misfortunes suffered by other teams keep working to help the Los Angeles Lakers

First, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers predictably went down in the NBA Finals, spurring the thought he could end up leaving. The Lakers, no longer a stepping stone in free agency thanks to solid building, seem like one of the favorites. 

Then there is the recent Kawhi Leonard disaster. Days ago, it seemed like San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would be able to act as the ultimate fixer, easing tensions between the organization and one of the league's best players. 

Now the Lakers have to be salivating thinking about the possibilities. 

Right on cue, the Lakers popped up as destination No. 1: 

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.

It's not hard to see why. From an on-court perspective, Leonard helps the Lakers contend right away, even in the Western Conference. Even after a transaction, he's joining a roster with plenty of upside currently featuring Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and others. 

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But this goes well beyond the court itself, hence Leonard not batting much of an eyelid at the idea of sacrificing a max deal with the Spurs. This is about a bigger market and the endorsements that would come alongside it. Besides endorsements and the money flowing from there, the bigger the market, the sweeter the next shoe deal. 

Of course, the Lakers have to be willing to look past Leonard's injury saga. 

According to the Los Angeles TimesTania Ganguli, the Lakers haven't talked with the Spurs about a trade because they "have concerns about the severity of Leonard's injury," and it might end up influencing how much they're willing to give up. 

"While the Lakers are open to trading any player on their roster, how much they are willing to give up depends on their confidence in his health," Ganguli wrote. 

Reed Saxon/Associated Press

The problem for the Lakers there is other teams won't care as much—a shot at Leonard is a shot at Leonard regardless of price. 

Still, it's a smart play by the Lakers. There is nothing so far to even say the Spurs would trade Leonard to the Lakers, and the Paul George fiasco, where the Indiana Pacers shipped him to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of where he really wanted to go, has to be fresh on the minds of the front office. 

The drama there hardly even touches on the injury point. It will be up to the Lakers to do some serious digging to see how much of it was serious and how much of it was convenience allowing for a trade right now. The spat with the Spurs started in large part because Popovich became impatient with his superstar near the end of the season after he could only appear in nine games. 

"You'll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question [about his availability]," Popovich told reporters in April. "So far, they say that he's not ready to go, so we can't do anything until that happens…and then we would have to decide what's going on from there. But that's the first thing that has to happen."

Leonard hadn't had notable injury issues before last season's disaster, which has to spur hope within the Lakers he can get back to his 25.5 point-per-game ways on 48.5 percent shooting from the floor alongside elite defense like he did in 2016-17. 

There's one big catch with all this—the Lakers don't need Leonard. 

Leonard is a luxury at this point in time, as the Lakers had been hoarding cap space for years in anticipation of both this offseason and the next. The Spurs' star fell into the latter, so he hadn't even been in the plans until his falling out with San Antonio. 

For now, the Lakers' attention centers on James, Paul George and even movement in the upcoming draft: 

Steve Kyler @stevekylerNBA

Lakers have been exploring their options - additional picks and move up... Will be hard to pull off. https://t.co/2lA6fEqhV3

This isn't likely the news Lakers fans want to hear right now given the circumstances. But the Lakers have to play chess with their assets right now both in order to lure free agents to town and to solidify the base roster's talent on the chance no major names come to save the day. 

The Lakers should improve next season regardless, though this admittedly doesn't feel like the typical offseason where their name comes up linked to big names and nothing of merit ends up happening. 

Something will happen, though the Leonard saga has yet to fully develop, and the Lakers' fate there might hinge on the Spurs, not what the front office accomplishes. Flexibility and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win will keep the Lakers in the running until the end, though the Lakers have plenty of options in front of them beyond the Leonard front. 

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