Now that San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard has reportedly requested a trade, there’s a darn good chance he’ll be moved within the next few weeks. Of the teams interested in him, the Los Angeles Lakers are said to be Leonard’s preferred landing spot.
For Leonard, it makes a ton of sense. The opportunity to star in the nation’s second-largest media market. An up-and-coming young team with a widely respected young coach. The heralded history of Lakers basketball in Hollywood. These are all likely reasons he wants to relocate to Southern California.
These are also among the reasons the Lakers are an absolute perfect fit for Leonard and his services.
Lakers have the pieces to make a deal work
Leonard isn’t a free agent. That won’t come to fruition until after the 2018-19 NBA season. It’s in this that any team looking to add him would have to pay a hefty price. Even without a lottery pick in this year’s draft, Los Angeles has the assets to make a deal work with San Antonio.
Said deal would likely have to include the Lakers giving up young forward Brandon Ingram. A former second overall pick back in 2016, the 20-year-old Ingram is a player the Spurs could build around moving forward. He averaged 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a sophomore last season. There’s stardom written all over this former Duke product.
In order to make the salaries work, San Antonio would have to take on the remainder of Luol Deng’s four-year, $72 million deal. That equates to $36.81 million over the next two seasons. It’s a hard sell, one the Lakers could make possible by sweetening the pot to the tune of its first-round pick this year (25th overall) and a future first-rounder. Heck, Kyle Kuzma becomes a possibility as another piece in this hypothetical deal.
Coming from Steve Kerr’s coaching tree, Luke Walton certainly places a lot of onus on the defensive end of the court. One might not realize that given Golden State’s wealth on offense, but this scheme relies a great deal on elite-level wing defenders. Just think Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala with the Warriors. It’s something Walton most definitely covets in Southern California.
A two-time defensive player of the year, Leonard would take some of the onus off Lonzo Ball out on the perimeter. He has the ability to guard four different positions and would be a major piece in the Lakers’ rebuild. That goes without saying.
A face of the franchise
Leonard would represent the Lakers’ first real star player since Kobe Bryant retired following the 2015-16 season. Sure he has a soft-spoken mentality and isn’t necessarily Mr. Hollywood, but a lot of that could have to do with the way San Antonio has conducted business under Gregg Popovich. Tim Duncan is certainly an example of this.
Los Angeles wouldn’t return to relevance by simply adding Leonard to the mix (more on that later). But it would be a strong strategic step in an offseason that we expect Magic Johnson and Co. to be very active.
Eliminate the competition
There’s been suggestions that both the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns might have interest in Leonard. Unlike their Pacific Division rival in Southern California, these two squads boast high draft picks to offer San Antonio in a potential trade. In fact, Phoenix picks No. 1 overall with the Kings selecting second in next week’s draft. A package surrounding either of those picks would be hard for San Antonio to pass up on.
Though, the Spurs would certainly covet a more proven player like Brandon Ingram over the unknown of a rookie. That’s where Los Angeles could eliminate competition within the division as it looks to somehow compete with Golden State moving forward.
Wouldn’t preclude LeBron James chase in free agency
If the Lakers were to somehow make the contracts nearly match in a Leonard deal, it would not stop them from adding two max-contract players. Having been linked to both LeBron James and Paul George, potentially in a package free agent deal, acquiring Leonard would only enhance the chances of this happening.
It’s realistic. And it’s definitely a scary proposition for opposing Western Conference teams, the Warriors themselves included. Just think about the prospect of Leonard teaming up with James, George, Lonzo Ball and potentially Kyle Kuzma. That has championship contention written all over it.
By acquiring Leonard, the Lakers would have already won the summer. It would also increase the team’s prospects of adding James and/or George. And even if that weren’t to come to fruition, Leonard himself is not a bad consolation prize.