The Los Angeles Lakers traded away two of their most promising young stars, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr., at the trade deadline to create enough cap space to sign two max salary players this summer. They still have plenty left, and recent rumors have emerged that they could also trade them if the return would be San Antonio Spurs forward and former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Lakers president Magic Johnson had always stated in media interviews that the team is looking to acquire two “elite free agents” in the coming offseason. The NBA legend said that they would not have traded Clarkson and Nance to the Cleveland Cavaliers if he was not sure that they could eventually get what they want, according to Bleacher Report.
Analysts believe that Magic was referring to LeBron James and Paul George, who are arguably the top two free agents this coming offseason. However, when reports went out that the Lakers could be recalibrating their focus to the 2019 free agency, speculation that the team may pursue Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Leonard by that time also emerged.
If rumors of a simmering beef between Leonard and the Spurs franchise are true, then the Lakers may just reformulate their plan and get one superstar even before free agency starts this summer.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Spurs’ medical staff have already cleared Leonard to play. However, the player himself has “elected against returning to the active roster,” Wojnarowski said.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich recently said in an interview that he would be “surprised” to see the two-time NBA All-Star come back this season, even though the decision to return is now solely in Leonard’s hands. These kinds of reports have made basketball pundits think that the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year may be unhappy in San Antonio and would want a way out soon.
Last month, former NBA player and current ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said in an episode of First Take that Leonard “wants out of San Antonio.” Rose explained that the Spurs’ inability to attract other superstar players to come play with him is the main reason why Leonard is rumored to be looking to get traded.
If all these rumors are true, then the question remains: Do the Lakers have enough assets to present San Antonio in exchange for who is considered as the best two-way player in the league right now?
NJ Advance Media’s Zack Rosenblatt believes so. After mentioning the trade chips the Philadelphia 76ers has in a potential deal with San Antonio, Rosenblatt also suggested that the Lakers could offer Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and the team’s 2019 first-round draft pick to the Spurs for Leonard.
While this kind of trade would clearly gut out all of the Lakers’ hopes for the future, having Leonard on the roster would more likely entice LeBron and PG13 to join the squad than the roster they have right now.
By trading the young trio, only Julius Randle will remain as the Lakers’ player of the future. But they will have a Big Three of their own, composed of James, George, and Leonard, all of whom are wing players who are elite on both ends of the floor.