Lakers Rumors: Latest Buzz on Kawhi Leonard, Other Potential Trades

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 4, 2018

SAN ANTONIO,TX - JANUARY 13 :  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs bows his head during the playing of the National Anthem before the start of his game against the Denver Nuggets at AT&T Center on January 13, 2018  in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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Only the Los Angeles Lakers can land LeBron James and still wind up feeling like "losers" in the following days.

Phase 1 of the plan looked simple enough: land LeBron. Phase 2 consisted of landing another superstar to put next to him, though other major names continue to shun the franchise. 

Then DeMarcus Cousins broke the NBA

Injured or not, Cousins decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors, which was truly a worst-case scenario for a Lakers team hoping to take over the Western Conference. Instead, the Lakers have to up the ante another notch in the hopes of keeping pace. 

The arms race has created another interesting round of rumors, so let's take a look at the latest. 


DeMarcus Cousins

Chuck Burton/Associated Press

This one is going to sting a bit. 

While the New Orleans Pelicans are perhaps justifiably upset Cousins chose to join the Warriors on a deal worth about $5 million, Lakers fans might turn out to be just as mad when they find out the front office passed on a chance to sign Cousins. 

So said a report from Marc Stein of the New York Times: "Word also reached us Monday night that LeBron's Lakers, after signing Rajon Rondo away from New Orleans and then losing Randle to the Pelicans, had an opportunity to sign Cousins at a one-year price point similar to the one that landed him in Golden State. But I'm told the Lakers passed, clearing the way for the Warriors to infuriate the basketball public yet again."

It's a stunning bit of info for a Lakers team needing to do whatever it takes to compete in a deep conference, to say the least.

It also works to confirm a prior report: 

Marc J. Spears @MarcJSpearsESPN

New Orleans Pelicans All-Star free agent center DeMarcus Cousins received calls from the Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers tonight once free agency began and is expected to have meetings scheduled with both teams soon, a source told ESPN's The Undefeated.

The only reassuring thing to perhaps come from this is the fact the Lakers showed some restraint on a player who suffered a ruptured Achilles back in January. While the Warriors are in a position to let Cousins sit until the winter and still be in contention, the Lakers likely want to build a core around James who can develop chemistry over the course of the season. 

Not that this will quell the disappointment...and Lakers fans will eventually have to see their team face Cousins on the court. 


Other Trade Plans? 

Steve Dykes/Associated Press

Yes, Kawhi Leonard is a target. 

But what else can the Lakers do to improve the roster around James after the move from Cousins that has fans up in arms? 

More trades by Magic Johnson and the front office, of course. 

According to Chris Sheridan of GetMoreSports.com, the Lakers have ambitions of going after some of the biggest names in the sport. 

"A number of trade options are being considered by Lakers executives Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, and names that are being bandied about include Damian Lillard, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Bradley Beal and John Wall...among others," Sheridan wrote.

Those are some major names, though none are too surprising besides a potential reunion with Love, which seems unlikely given how things worked out in Cleveland

But DeRozan from the Toronto Raptors, for example, is perhaps available as new leadership takes over and the front office looks to make some moves. He's 28 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged 23.0 points and 5.2 assists per game, but he has topped out at 27.3 points per game, making him an ideal secondary scorer next to James. 

The pair from the Washington Wizards don't figure to be up for sale, but Wall could run the point and keep James engaged and Beal could do plenty of off-ball scoring. But Lillard, 27, might be the most interesting name because he's a borderline MVP candidate who just put up 26.9 points and 6.6 assists per game, though it's hard to imagine the Portland Trail Blazers let him go. 

This is more of the same compared to what we usually hear about the Lakers, with James being the big difference. But keep in mind Eastern Conference teams might be reluctant to trade away anyone of value now that James is out west and the conference seems to have opened up, so the Lakers' big win could actually work against them. 


Kawhi Leonard Update

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

With perhaps only Western Conference teams willing to do a deal, the conversation swings back to Leonard. 

At first, it seemed like the San Antonio Spurs would only do business with the Eastern Conference, because why play against your former disgruntled superstar more often than you have to, right? 

But Leonard is the big hiccup in that sort of plan for the Spurs, as teams from the opposite conference might be reluctant to pay a massive price for the superstar if there is a chance he acts as a one-year rental and runs off to join the Lakers anyway. 

And Leonard remains interested, to say the least: 

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt

Meaning, the Spurs might as well ship Leonard to the Lakers unless another team is somehow fine with rolling the dice. 

Not helping matters is the Spurs' apparent asking price, which according to Spectrum SportsNet's Larry Coon includes Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and multiple draft assets: 

Spectrum SportsNet @SpectrumSN

NBA salary cap expert @LarryCoon was on tonight's show to break down the #Lakers' cap space flexibility following today's moves. https://t.co/GTB1fYdQrk

This meshes with a report from Yahoo Sports' Jordan Schultz suggesting the Spurs want a trio of first-round picks and multiple players from the Philadelphia 76ers

For the Lakers, the trick is not bidding against themselves when they might be the only team willing to cough up the necessary value in a trade for Leonard. While he's worth it for his elite defense and the way his offensive skill set would work alongside James, it's clear the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is so ruined he's going to get moved one way or another. 

This is a waiting game for the Lakers, who have to be considered the favorite. The offseason isn't a disaster due to Cousins, but it's going to be judged on what they surrender to get James a running mate.