With the San Antonio Spurs officially trading Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Leonard-Lakers saga will likely be placed on hold for the most part until next summer, akin to the Paul George situation last year.
However, the situation coming to a close means the behind-the-scenes stories will begin to leak out and they are telling of the situation.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne appeared on Mason & Ireland for ESPNLA on Wednesday afternoon where she provided some insight into the Lakers-Spurs negotiations for Leonard and San Antonio’s thinking throughout the process.
Shelburne: “From the Lakers end of things, they made calls and they…”
Mason: “Did they ever make an offer?”
Shelburne: “I don’t if it was an official offer. I think there were conversations about concepts…I think the Lakers would have been willing to do a deal that was one really good young player, whoever (the Spurs) wanted – I don’t know if I’d say whoever they wanted. I don’t know if (the Lakers) were ever willing to give up Brandon Ingram but I think his name, that was the guy the Spurs wanted – and one first round pick. I don’t think they ever presented it as an offer. I think they never got that far because San Antonio wanted three good young players and three unprotected firsts. It was so high to the point like you felt like they’re not really serious about doing a deal. Like maybe they’re just going through the motions here. I think Philadelphia felt the same way.
Excuse me, they wanted HOW many first round picks?!? And HOW many prospects!?! But wait, there’s more!
“People thought (the Sixers) were going to put Markelle Fultz’s name in any kind of deal construction because you’re not going to hang your guy out there to be publicly embarrassed if you don’t feel like if this is realistic or even if that would get the deal done..But I don’t know Markelle Fultz gets that deal done.”
“But I don’t even think they got that far. I think that San Antonio was like ‘No we want Ben Simmons.’ If they only want Ben Simmons, then you’re not really having a conversation. So why even talk about Markelle Fultz if they won’t even move off the Ben Simmons discussion. I think it was very similar where the Lakers were with Brandon Ingram. ‘Why would even talk about Brandon Ingram if you won’t move off the three and three, right? The three great young players and three picks. If you won’t move off that, then we’re not even going to talk about Brandon Ingram.’ So you’re not going to have your star young player you have great aspirations for hung out there publicly.”
We knew the Spurs were maintaining an impossibly high asking price for Leonard given the circumstances, but this is certifiably insane. At full health, it would be an argument as to whether he’d be worth the price of three high-end prospects and three unprotected first-round picks, and it’s not an argument I would make.
But coming off an injury that sidelined him for a full season along with his trade demand and the idea of netting that would be crazy.
Certainly, there’s an argument to be made that a team should start high and come down to a reasonable price, but if your starting point makes teams question whether you’re serious about trading the player, then you’ve either totally misfired or you’re just terrible at negotiations.
Any leverage the Spurs believed they manufactured, mostly around the idea that LeBron James would not join the Lakers, came crumbling down once James signed with the Lakers. According to Shelburne, though, the Lakers were forced to call the Spurs’ bluff in the trade talks.
“And I think with the Lakers, their big leverage moment, San Antonio’s leverage moment with the Lakers was ‘Did the Lakers really believe they had to get Kawhi in order to get LeBron.’ And at some point, the Lakers called the bluff. They said ‘Well, we’re going to take our chances because LeBron’s even going to want to come if we trade our whole team.’ And I don’t know if they did work on the backend or whatever it is, but they just said ‘We can’t do that. That’s not a smart basketball decision.’ So the Lakers sort of backed away from these conversations. There was an ongoing conversation but they weren’t going to do anything stupid just to get LeBron. They had to take their chances that LeBron would be willing to be patient with them and to come to Los Angeles regardless if they traded for Kawhi.”
“I think what really finally moved them is they had to make a gut-level decision. Will LeBron be the first guy here? Will he come alone? Will he give them a year or a few weeks or whatever it is to find championship-level players to surround him with, a sidekick or whatever it is? And maybe they don’t even need to. Maybe Brandon Ingram becomes a star. Maybe Kuzma or Lonzo or something takes a leap.”
If we’re to believe Shelburne that the Spurs weren’t budging off their asking price, then it would have likely taken Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma AND three unprotected picks, which would have likely required the Lakers to acquire one in a salary dump deal of some sort.
The Spurs ended up with DeMar DeRozan, which may or may not work out, but if this were any other organization, fans would be lambasting and mocking the Spurs for so horribly mismanaging these trade negotiations.