With the NBA free agency season approaching and basketball fans wondering where LeBron James and Paul George will be playing next season, the biggest domino may be Kawhi Leonard.
And according to national media reports Thursday, trade talks with the San Antonio Spurs are heating up with several big-market teams.
League sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that the Spurs are actively discussing possible trade offers involving their two-time All-NBA forward Leonard with several teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
With prior reports this offseason that Leonard, who celebrates his 27th birthday Friday, wants out of San Antonio immediately, ESPN reports that while the Spurs are weighing short-term offers San Antonio apparently hopes to score a massive return on any deal for Leonard, the two-time All-Star and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Leonard’s reported top choice would be his hometown Lakers, but with the Spurs seemingly unwilling to help their Western Conference rivals vault to immediate NBA title contenders, Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and company are reportedly pressing internally to work out a trade with San Antonio quickly in hopes of influencing James and/or George to jump teams to L.A.
The Lakers are reportedly using the Kyrie Irving and Paul George trades as a framework for their offer, though San Antonio wants more given the expectation that the deal will seal James joining the Lakers. Los Angeles has yet to sign 25th overall pick Mo Wagner, meaning his rights can potentially be included in a trade; the Lakers are also willing to offer ex-No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram and take on salary in order to facilitate a deal for an additional first-round pick, according to ESPN.
One player the Spurs may not be interested in: Lonzo Ball. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Spurs are believed to be uninterested in the Lakers’ young point guard as a trade centerpiece.
NBA sources told Wojnarowski Thursday that the Spurs remain most enamored with a possible match with the Celtics, who are loaded with young players and draft picks. But Boston is apparently somewhat apprehensive to go all-in on Leonard — partially based on the long-term health of the seven-year veteran Leonard, who played just nine games last season due to a quad injury.
League sources also told ESPN the Celtics would want assurances that Leonard would not exercise his player option next summer and stay for just one season before leaving via free agency.
In addition, the Philadelphia 76ers are reportedly discussing ways to jump into the Leonard sweepstakes, with Sports Illustrated reporting Thursday that the Sixers, cognizant of the Lakers’ advanced timeline, are having internal discussions on making their first official offer for Leonard. A team source told SI that based on prior talks with San Antonio a package could involve forwards Dario Saric and Robert Covington plus a future first-round pick, although the Sixers initially buckled at the thought of losing both valued rotation players.
Meanwhile, a source told Yahoo Sports that Leonard actually reached out to James to let him know he wanted to play with the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar. James faces a Friday deadline to opt out of the final year of his existing contract with the Cavaliers. He could opt out and re-sign with Cleveland, although the strong current from national media is James appears ready to move again.
The national media consensus hints that James does not wish to be the first big move if he chooses to join the young Lakers and instead prefers to see which assets the storied franchise can add, and keep, to help the Cavaliers superstar in his hunt for a fourth NBA championship and beyond.
According to a separate ESPN report, James is unlikely to visit other teams or take an audience with suitors as he did in past free-agent circuits. In fact, James might not even speak with top team officials before making a decision on his destination for next season.
In 2010, James bolted Cleveland in a nationally televised announcement, “The Decision,” during which he infamously declared he was taking his “talents to South Beach” and joining the Miami Heat. Before he joined the Heat, James had meetings with the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, where team representatives pitched the All-Star with personalized presentations and marketing plans.
In 2014, he returned to the Cavaliers after an in-person meeting with team owner Dan Gilbert.
—Field Level Media