Lakers News: Kawhi Leonard Trade Buzz, Rumors on DeMarcus Cousins, Lonzo Ball

Maurice Bobb@@ReeseReportFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2018

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. Spurs won 119-98. 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 Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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Thanks to free agent LeBron James agreeing to a deal to move to L.A., the Los Angeles Lakers are back.

The Purple and Gold are relevant again and the expectation of greatness has returned to the Staples Center, where jerseys with names like Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant hang in the rafters.

And as much as bring James in on a four-year, $154 million contract is the best move Magic Johnson has made in his short tenure as the Lakers president of basketball operations, he's not done yet.

There's another max deal slot available, and he seems determined to fill it with a superstar to play with James.

That slot might have gone to Paul George, but the Palmdale, California, native chose to spurn his lifelong dream of playing for his hometown team to agree to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I 100 percent appreciate Laker Nation for wanting me to come back home," George said during the ESPN My Journey series (h/t Warriors Outsiders' Drew Shiller). "I wanted to come here a year ago, prior to going to OKC. And unfortunately wasn't traded to the Lakers—Lakers didn't grab me."

Now, Johnson has to focus on either making a trade or waiting until next summer to sign a max player outright.

While names like Damian Lillard are starting to float around in trade rumors, it's Kawhi Leonard that the Lakers appear to covet most, and the feeling was mutual, but that may have changed since James decided to make Los Angeles his home.


Kawhi Now Prefers the Clippers?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 5: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs handles the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers on April 5, 2017 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Mark Sobhani/Getty Images

Due to the reported mishandling of his injury, the relationship between Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs seems to be beyond repair and he wants out.

The most intriguing part of that, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, was the fact that he wanted to play in L.A., preferably with the Lakers.

While Los Angeles hasn't made an "overwhelming offer" to San Antonio to land Leonard, hedging their bets that they might have a better chance of getting him next summer outright, the Spurs have made it clear that the Lakers will have to pony up if it wants their two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

According to Spectrum SportsNet's Larry Coon, the price for Leonard is Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, two first-round draft picks and swapping two more draft picks.

That steep price is giving L.A. pause, making them lean towards waiting until next summer.

But that strategy may prove ineffective, according to Yahoo Sports Shams Charania, because Leonard might not be interested in joining a superteam with James. He may be more interested in signing with the Los Angeles Clippers or the Philadelphia 76ers, per Charania.

"One thing that's been made abundantly clear, I'm going to stress this: there's no guarantee if Kawhi Leonard hits the market next summer he's going to sign with the Lakers, period," Charania said on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, via RealGM. "I think his options have broadened a little bit. There's another team obviously in L.A. I think he'd be very much open to the Clippers.

"There's a belief around the league that if the Sixers came hard, there could be potential there for him to potentially be there in the long-term."

That means that it may be in the Lakers best interests to trade for Leonard now, then "recruit" him for the rest of the year in the hopes of him signing a max contract next summer.

Otherwise, he might not ever wear the Purple and Gold.

"Around Kawhi, it's been made abundantly clear there's not an interest to go join a superteam," Charania added. "I don't think he's jumping for joy that LeBron James is in L.A. with the Lakers. If anything, that's going to make him look, maybe more, toward the Clippers because this is a guy that won Finals MVP against LeBron James. You think he's amped up and wants to join LeBron now? I think that's been overstated."

Magic Johnson is a shrewd negotiator and, as evidenced by the James deal, a natural for running an NBA front office, so the pursuit of Leonard is far from over.

The Lakers still have a legitimate shot at getting their man.

DeMarcus Cousins Could Have Been a Laker

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 5: DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 5, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Lakers agreeing to a deal with LeBron James was the biggest news of this summer's free agency period, that is, until it was reported that DeMarcus Cousins agreed to sign a one-year, $5.3 million contract with the Golden State Warriors.

Almost instantaneously, Twitter was on fire with tweets about the disbelief that no one offered Cousins a max deal, the rich getting richer, how it would make the upcoming season unnecessary and how the move would ruin the league.

Cousins told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears that he didn't receive any significant contract offers before picking up the phone to call the defending champs, who will sign him to the mid-level exception, a remarkable deal even considering that Cousins might not play until after the All-Star break.

Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

Warriors’ initial target on the MLE was Tyreke Evans. They were turned down because of the lack of desired money (shots/minutes/etc). That’s what left it still open for the taking when DeMarcus Cousins called Bob Myers.

The Warriors can afford to wait on Cousins' services, should he come back from a torn Achilles tendon playing like the player who averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks before getting hurt.

But the Lakers couldn't.

According to New York Times Marc Stein, Magic Johnson and Jeanie Buss want the team to be as competitive as possible for the 2018-19 season and felt that they couldn't sign a player, no matter how talented, that could possibly miss half the year.

"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," Stein wrote in his newsletter via Yahoo Sports Dan Feldman. "But I'm told the Lakers passed, clearing the way for the Warriors to infuriate the basketball public yet again."

The Lakers are still high on Cousins, but couldn't afford to wait, even at a discounted rate, for his return from injury like Golden State.

DeMarcus Cousins @boogiecousins

Help is on the way 🙏🏿 #TheResurgence #0Doubt https://t.co/cfTyxXY6Q8

L.A. might have made a mistake on that front, though, because Cousins is eyeing training camp for his return.

"I'm shooting for training camp," Cousins told Spears. "It's not B.S. It wasn't a comment just to sound good in free agency."


Did Lonzo Ball's Camp Leak Word of Knee Injury?

DETROIT, MI - MARCH 26: Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against the Detroit Pistons on March 26, 2018 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or u
Chris Schwegler/Getty Images

Lonzo Ball grew up in Los Angeles and played college at UCLA, so it would make sense that he loves playing for his hometown Lakers and doesn't want to be traded.

But did his desire to be left out of any trade deals to land Kawhi Leonard lead to his camp leaking word of his torn meniscus?

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, that just might be the case.

Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

Listening back to pod discussion on Lonzo Ball's knee injury, I misspoke: What I planned to say was that he may require surgery, not that he requires it. https://t.co/YcI2iV0CQc

"That knee injury, I think there was a belief around the Lakers is that it was within his world that that got leaked out there to keep him from getting traded," Wojnarowski said on his podcast. "He doesn't want to be traded from L.A. It wasn't the Lakers who wanted information out on that knee injury. There were a lot of teams who were checking on possible deals with the Lakers. They wanted to know. There were a lot of questions about that knee."

If Ball's camp did leak word about the knee, it may have been in vain. 

According to a report by Washington Post's Tim Bontemps, the Spurs are not interested in Ball.

While a trade may not be likely, Ball still has reasons to be concerned.

Tania Ganguli @taniaganguli

Rondo has been told it'll be an open competition at starting point guard. One source close to Lonzo Ball tells me: "Zo's not running from the competition."

L.A. agreed to sign Rondo to a one-year, $9 million deal and reportedly told him that it was an open competition for the starting point guard spot.

Rondo brings 12 years of experience, a championship and a reputation for stepping up his play in the playoffs at "Playoff Rondo."

He will challenge Ball, go at Ball and make things very interesting during Laker practices.

Ball with either shrink or rise to the occasion.