According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, the "pressure is mounting" for the Lakers to pull off a trade with the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard, with "a race" developing to bring Leonard aboard "before James is faced with deciding whether to become a free agent on Friday, especially with concern that Oklahoma City's Paul George is no longer assured of signing with the Lakers."
For James, any hesitancy makes sense. If his goal is to continue chasing championships, signing in Los Angeles without a player of Leonard's or George's caliber would put that goal on hold for the 2018-19 season. The Lakers have young talent, but it isn't ready to compete for titles.
The Lakers aren't just contending against time, however. According to ESPN.com's report, the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Clippers have already made offers for Leonard.
The Lakers, meanwhile, "did not have a good initial conversation with the Spurs" and "came away feeling like San Antonio 'shut the door on us,' and the conversation never progressed or included a formal trade offer," per ESPN.com.
That doesn't mean the Lakers can't get into the sweepstakes, however. Per that report, "The Spurs haven't ruled out sending Leonard to any destination, league sources said."
The Lakers' best hope is other teams are hesitant to deal for Leonard, suspecting he wouldn't sign a long-term extension and then depart in free agency next summer. That could lower the offers, leaving the Lakers in the driver's seat.
If franchises like the Sixers or Celtics suspect they can win over Leonard and keep him for the long term, however, it's easy to see how the Lakers could be outbid.
The Sixers could offer some combination of Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Zhaire Smith and the 2021 Miami Heat pick. The Celtics could build packages centered around young players such as Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, established stars like Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward or a bevy of valuable future picks.
Those packages would supersede the best collection of talent the Lakers could compile. While Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma are intriguing, the Lakers don't have the future draft picks to sweeten the deal (and it's hard to imagine Gregg Popovich would willingly take on the Ball family circus).
The Lakers can build their superteam this offseason. But if they can't acquire Leonard—and George decides to stay in OKC—their chances of signing James will take a major hit.