But they’re not the only team believing it has that extra incentive to deal for the Spurs star.
But the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers have been pressing the Spurs to trade Leonard this week, as both teams believe that acquiring Leonard would put them in the pole position to try to sign LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers when free agency starts Sunday at 12:01 a.m., Eastern time.
Even without Leonard, the Lakers are already favored for LeBron (though the chances of acquiring Leonard are baked into the LeBron odds). Would the 76ers getting LeBron put them over the top? Maybe. I believe Los Angeles with Leonard would rate ahead of Philadelphia with Leonard – though obviously only one team will have Leonard.
This consideration separates the Lakers and 76ers from the Celtics, who aren’t diving headfirst into the Leonard sweepstakes. Boston wouldn’t get the same trickle-down effects from acquiring Leonard. Getting Leonard could be worthwhile on its own, but the LeBron factor could cause Los Angeles and Philadelphia to assemble stronger trade packages than Boston would.
The Lakers and 76ers aren’t in the same boat here, though. Leonard reportedly wants to play in Los Angeles, which carries significant weight as his 2019 free agency approaches. That incentives the Lakers even further – in a way that doesn’t apply to Philadelphia – to trade for him.
One team source says preliminary discussions with San Antonio revealed the Spurs have strong interest in a package involving burgeoning forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington as well as a future first-round pick. A potential, more serious offer that Philadelphia is weighing internally includes Saric and Covington and the 2021 Miami Heat unprotected first-round pick the Sixers obtained in their draft-night deal with the Phoenix Suns.
Covington is a strong 3-and-D wing, and Saric has improved immensely. They’d help if the Spurs want to remain competitive after trading Leonard.
But the Lakers have Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball (who’d probably have to be conveyed to a third team) to forma package.
Either Los Angeles or Philadelphia landing Leonard would be huge on its own right. The LeBron ramifications make it even bigger.