We don’t know where Kawhi Leonard will end up playing next season. NBA free agency is nearly upon us, and already it appears to be a game of musical chairs with nobody willing to be the one left standing up.
LeBron James is reportedly waiting to make his decision until it is determined where — if anywhere — Leonard will end up. The San Antonio Spurs are slow playing the rest of the league, waiting for the best offer after Leonard cut some of their leverage after prematurely leaking that he would like to leave the organization.
The Lakers have until 11:59 p.m. on Friday for James to opt in or out of his contract, which has implications about Los Angeles signing him outright or having to trade for him. Obviously LA would rather have James opt out, which would allow them to sign James. Trading for LeBron sort of takes the Lakers out of the Leonard sweepstakes financially.
The problem for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka appears to be that the Spurs are uninterested in some of the current assets the Lakers have to offer. Last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Lonzo Ball, is not on San Antonio’s radar. The team reportedly wants nothing to do with the former UCLA point guard (or, presumably, his loudmouth father).
The question now is whether the Lakers even have enough to convince the San Antonio Spurs to send Leonard there. With San Antonio believed to be uninterested in Lonzo Ball, the Lakers have three other intriguing young players — Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart — plus their future first-round picks to include in a deal.
In an attempt to sweeten the pot, multiple sources said the Lakers and Denver Nuggets are discussing a potential deal that would see Los Angeles take back bad money for a draft pick. The Nuggets, who will be deep into the luxury tax after re-signing restricted free agent center Nikola Jokic next month, have about $34 million in expiring contracts for Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler to send out in possible deals.
Can you really blame the Spurs if this is the case? As a player, Ball had sort of a disappointing rookie season, although he wasn’t a lost case. Far from it — he will be one of many top-flight picks that simply need time to develop over the next several years.
However, Lonzo’s father LaVar Ball is another story. The plastic shoe-hawking, Facebook reality show-producing former College basketball player has introduced himself unnecessarily into just about every position he can as a means to create brand value for both him and his son. One would think playing for the Lakers would be enough to do that, but that was not the direction LaVar took over this last year.
If you are familiar with the ethos of the Spurs, it’s no surprise that they aren’t very interested in dealing with LaVar and the circus that he pays to follow him around. And, from a basketball perspective, the Spurs are already in a position to move on from Tony Parker at the guard spot. The team has Dejounte Murray and signed Patty Mills to a new four-year deal in 2017 that runs through 2020-21.
The takeaway here I think is twofold. First, because the Lakers have a timeline they would like to meet, it really plays into San Antonio’s hands, much better than you would expect given the fact that Leonard sort of killed their leverage. If they really are scrambling to find another first round pick they can ship over to Texas, that really supports the idea of the Spurs holding out and making everyone else sweat.
Second, if San Antonio gets what they really want out of this deal, which includes at least one good Lakers youngster plus a couple of first-round picks, we could be in for the first major rebuild the Spurs have undergone in a couple of decades. There has been chatter about LaMarcus Aldridge potentially being traded as well, which would mean at least another first round pick. That would put San Antonio in a position to build themselves back up through the draft, paired with some of the better young players they have, like Murray.
What the Spurs do from here on out is anyone’s guess, but they are handling the end of the Leonard situation with aplomb.