Over the past week, there has been lots of rumors circulating about Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs trade talks that would bring the disgruntled Kawhi Leonard to the Lakers. The buzz escalated to a level where the Vegas odds of Leonard going to the Lakers went to -1000 (via MyBookie). A trade would most likely revolve around Brandon Ingram, a choice between Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, and an assortment of future 1st round draft picks. Although I am a member of the “acquire top 10 players at any cost,” camp, I do believe there might be a more effective way for the Lakers to acquire not just Leonard but add another star in the process.
The Lakers strategy this off-season once LeBron James committed to the organization has been to stack up 1-year contracts to give the team as much cap flexibility for the 2019 free agent class as possible. This is absolutely the right move for a team that currently has the best player on the planet, great young prospects, and optimum cap room. Dealing with the Spurs front office, led by general manager RC Buford and head coach Gregg Popovich, will most likely lead to the Lakers losing not only all their young talent, but also at minimum two first round picks.
Even though the Lakers would be acquiring a top-5 talent in Leonard, they would be compromising their ability to add depth to the roster over the next four years that LeBron is signed on for, which cannot be understated. A super-team constructed of 4 NBA All-Stars almost lost to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals because of an injury to Andre Iguodala. The Golden State Warriors did not have the depth to replace his impact on the team.
Leonard has expressed his interest in playing in LA next year, regardless of where he plays in the 2018-2019 season. Paul George is an obvious example as to why you cannot always take comments like Leonard’s as a commitment, but why would you trade away everything that makes your franchise’s situation great for a guy that might just walk in the door next season for no cost? Carmelo Anthony could have waited 3 months for free agency to go to the Knicks in 2011. Instead, he gutted his future team to get to New York before the trade deadline and set back the Knicks for no real reason. I do not think the Lakers should do the same, unless it is for a guy you know wants to be in LA, and you can get him for a reasonable price.
There are a lot of questions coming into the 2018-2019 NBA season, especially after the Warriors signed another All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins, to the mid-level exception on Monday. There are many teams in no-mans-land that might be trying to unload an All-Star so that they can start taking their team in a different direction. Here are a few names that come to mind that I believe if the Lakers are patient, they might be able to scoop them up near the 2019 trade deadline at a discounted rate:
Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
Damian Lillard/CJ McCullum – Portland Trail Blazers
Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
There were reports earlier this week that Jimmy Butler is tired of the young guys on the Timberwolves roster, particularly Karl Anthony-Towns. Butler has stated he is not willing to sign a contract extension as of now. If the team comes out to a slow start, do not be surprised if Butler asks for a trade because the Wolves will most likely side with their 22-year-old 1st overall pick rather than Butler.
The Blazers are in a bind. They finished the regular season as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference, the highest finish in the Lillard/McCullum era, before getting ran out of the gym against the New Orleans Pelicans in a first round sweep. The team’s lackluster performance called for the team to dissect their situation, and determine which direction they need to go in. Lillard responded to a fan on Twitter yesterday when asked how he would feel about a trade to the Lakers to play with LeBron James.
Question: If the Blazers traded you to the Lakers to help LeBron would you be happy?
Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard via Twitter): I’m typically a happy camper
Lillard has a history of interacting with fans on Twitter and making headlines because of it, but this fit makes a lot of sense. The Blazers have been led by the duo for 5 years now, and it might be time to explore a different plan. The Lakers can offer the Blazers wing players and draft picks to pair with either McCullum or Lillard, depending on who they choose to keep around.
Bradley Beal is a wild card, but the Wizards are land-locked with their cap situation. The John Wall supermax contract is virtually untradeable, and Otto Porter, although a good player, is not a must-have prospect at this point of his career. This leaves Beal as the odd man out in the scenario that the Wizards want to break up their core to try and gain some cap flexibility for the future. Beal would be a great fit alongside LeBron, and like every other scenario above, the Lakers have the assets to acquire Beal if the Wizards try to shop him.
I believe that all the players I have mentioned could be acquired for substantially less than what it would take to get Leonard from the Spurs. If the Lakers could obtain one of these All-Stars, it gives Leonard another strong reason to join the Lakers in the 2019 free agency period. Leonard would fit right into the open cap space and would not require trading away anymore assets than what it took to get the second star player beside LeBron.
The one exception I have not mentioned is what if the New Orleans Pelicans without Boogie and Rajon Rondo regress, Jru Holiday gets hurt again, and Anthony Davis asks for a trade? The idea of Davis requesting a trade from the Pelicans has been discussed for years, and this is the first year where that conversation could become a reality. If this occurs, the Lakers should give the Pelicans whatever they want for the 7’ 0” superhuman. You will never find another player like Davis in this league. He is the kind of unstoppable force that LeBron has never played with before. Davis could take some of the burden off LeBron and allow him to extend his career. The Celtics have the most assets to sacrifice if Davis does become available and would make more sense for the Pelicans to trade him out of the Western Conference. But imagine Davis and LeBron together. Two of the top three players in the NBA on one team. Then wait for it……. LeBron, Davis, and Leonard on the 2019-2020 Lakers team. That team would be favorites to win the NBA Finals, regardless of what the Warriors do.
I know all the hype has been around Kawhi Leonard being a Laker this upcoming season, but I really hope that Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson show patience in their roster decisions. LeBron is committed for at least 3 years. The Warriors are here to stay next year. There is no guarantee the Warriors are the same team in the 2019-2020 season. Plan to compete then, show patience now.
Photo Credit: thebiglead.com