Reports: Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs re-engage in Kawhi Leonard trade talks

The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs reportedly re-engaged in trade discussions surrounding Kawhi Leonard on Wednesday. 

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported that despite the Spurs’ attempts to make peace with their disgruntled star, an overwhelming offer from the Lakers could spark a deal.

Both teams also believe a Leonard trade would “likely clinch” a commitment from LeBron James to join the Lakers as a free agent, per ESPN. James has until Friday at 11:59 ET to decline his player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers to become an unrestricted free agent. 

Via Twitter, Marc Stein of The New York Times reports that league sources say the Spurs are “ready” to move on from Leonard:

This doesn’t guarantee Kawhi Leonard is going to the Lakers this week — since San Antonio could always trade him elsewhere and/or drag things out — but league sources say of the Spurs: “They’re ready” to move on from Kawhi

It had been reported by ESPN that the Lakers were feeling pressure to quickly land Leonard in an effort to lure James, who is reportedly hesitant to join the team without another star in place. Here’s more from ESPN’s report:

The Lakers are using the Paul George and Kyrie Irving trades as proportional models for a Leonard deal, but San Antonio understands that this trade, for all intents and purposes, would mean Leonard and James coming to the Lakers; and it will likely command a massive package of young players and draft picks for Leonard, a two-time All-NBA first-teamer and a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

….

The Lakers have been weighing the conservation of young assets and future draft picks against the possibility of getting shut out in free agency. The Lakers hoped to lure James and George in free agency, which would give them more leverage in Leonard trade talks — or simply for the ability to wait until next year to sign Leonard.

The price for Leonard would be substantial. The Lakers could have to surrender a combination of former first-round picks — from Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — and future first-round picks and perhaps restricted free agent Julius Randle in a sign-and-trade agreement.

As for the discussions held Wednesday, Los Angeles Times’ Tania Ganguli said a source described the call as “productive.” Here’s more from Ganguli on Leonard and the Lakers:

A week after stalled conversations, the Lakers and San Antonio re-engaged in discussions about disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard wants out of San Antonio and has a preference to come to Los Angeles. He prefers the Lakers over the Clippers. But where the Spurs were unwilling to engage in conversation with the Lakers last week, a source not authorized to speak publicly termed Wednesday’s conversation as “productive.”

Aside from the Leonard chatter, the Lakers gave young forward Julius Randle a qualifying offer yesterday, ensuring he will be a restricted free agent this summer. That move, too, could play into what happens next for the Lakers in free agency, writes Ganguli:

The most financially simple way for the Lakers to add two free agents under maximum deals would be for them to renounce their rights to Randle and waive and stretch payments to forward Luol Deng, who played 13 minutes last season, all in the Lakers’ season opener. Deng is owed $18 million in each of the next two seasons and stretching his contract would spread the salary cap hit out over five years, saving the Lakers nearly $12 million on next season’s salary cap.

If they are able to trade for Leonard, that might involve trading away Deng’s contract, and removing that salary cap hit from their books outright. That move would also open the door to sign two free agents to maximum deals in addition to Leonard. It could clear the way for the Lakers to add Leonard, LeBron James and Paul George for next season.

The Boston Celtics have been reported to have an interest in Leonard, too. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports the likelihood of the Celtics landing Leonard seems slim at best::

A Western Conference source with an interest in the proceedings told the Herald the Spurs did have a brief discussion with the Celts today, but there was no real negotiation. It was the first contact between the teams since before the draft, but even those talks did not include the C’s making an offer. That brief call, according to two league sources, went nowhere.

The situation is beginning to resemble the Paul George affair from last summer. The Celtics felt they could have beaten the deal offered by Oklahoma City (even though the transaction worked out better for the Pacers, and ultimately for the C’s too).

This time with Leonard and the Spurs, they would like to have a chance to be in the discussions at the end, though it doesn’t appear (again, yet) as if there is much of an avenue for an agreement.

Leonard played in just nine games for San Antonio in the 2017-18 campaign due to a quad injury he initially suffered in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals. The two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year’s absence was especially notable late in the season, when he went to New York to continue rehab and chose not to be with the team during its playoff run. San Antonio was defeated 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by eventual-champion Golden State. 

The two-time All-Star Leonard can enter unrestricted free agency in 2019 if he does not sign a contract extension with the Spurs this summer. Leonard is due just over $20 million next season.

The tension surrounding the situation between Leonard and the Spurs intensified when, after opting to not be with the team for rehab reasons, Leonard was spotted three weeks later attending a Dodgers game in Los Angeles.

San Antonio is hoping to regain the usual good footing it holds with its stars in order to maintain the standard of excellence they have maintained since drafting Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in 1997. The Spurs had won at least 50 games in every season until 2017-18, when they went 47-35 and finished seventh in the Western Conference.

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