No story has been as significant or as confusing as what has been going on in San Antonio over the past few months. Spurs’ forward Kawhi Leonard has missed all but nine games this season while rehabbing from injury. Spurs doctors have cleared the star for return but due to potentially a variety of reasons, Leonard has not yet indicated that he is ready to return and is likely to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Leonard’s absence has many talking about his relationship with the Spurs with reports that it has been strained. Despite not being a typically brash superstar, there is the possibility that Leonard seeks greener pastures elsewhere.
With so much up in the air, many teams have already touched bases with the Spurs on potentially swinging a trade for the two-way star. In the future, those teams could include the Los Angeles Lakers, who, according to Sporting News’ Sean Deveney, are shifting their focus to the former Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”
There are a few things to keep in mind here.
The Spurs are the best organization, perhaps in all sports, at preventing leaks. No one knows what is truly happening between Leonard, Gregg Popovich and Spurs management.
It’s also important to note the source of this report. This is not a reporter digging around and finding out the Lakers have interest in Leonard. It’s a league executive making an educated guess based on year-long stories about the Lakers desire for multiple stars this summer.
That said, it’s easy to see the fire causing the smoke. Leonard is from California, negotiating a new shoe deal and set to become a free agent next summer. The Spurs are older, don’t have an influx of young talent like the Lakers do and, despite their ability to reach the playoffs this season, rely heavily on Leonard when he is playing. All of that, plus the reports of a strained relationship, lead this anonymous executive to say that it’s likely the Lakers will target him either this summer via trade or the next via free agency.
On the other hand, Leonard is the star of a perennial 50-win team on one of the most stable organizations in sports and can re-sign with them for upwards of 200 million dollars.
In the end, no one knows what will happen in the Leonard situation. But the Lakers being involved is both predictable and significant. With dreams of signing Paul George and LeBron James this summer, perhaps the more likely scenario is trading for one star to recruit another.