The Los Angeles Lakers may have had a disappointing 2018-19 campaign where they dealt with numerous issues behind the scenes and finished just 37-45 in the regular season despite adding LeBron James to the lineup. However, the team appears to be in the thick of preparations for what they hope would be a productive 2019 offseason, as James has reportedly met with two prospective free agents to talk about the possibility of moving to Los Angeles this summer.
As quoted by Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on Thursday’s edition of Pardon the Interruption that James has already kicked off the “recruiting process” by having discussions with Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia 76ers wingman Jimmy Butler.
“There’s no tampering enforcement by players,” Windhorst continued. “And while [former team president] Magic Johnson, the guy who got in trouble for tampering before, is no longer there, LeBron is ‘tamperer in chief’ of the Lakers right now. The thing about it is, I don’t know if texts and calls, and maybe a dinner with LeBron, is enough for the Lakers to overcome their hurdles that they’re gonna have.”
While Butler’s rumored free agency plans remain unclear at this point, multiple reports have claimed in the past that Leonard is not interested in teaming up with James on the Lakers. Per Bleacher Report, ESPN’s Michael C. Wright said in March that the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will likely move to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer, just as rumors had been suggesting since the 2018 offseason. Separately, another ESPN writer, Adrian Wojnarowski, said earlier this month that the possibility of Leonard remaining in Toronto has become a “serious consideration,” according to a report from Sporting News.
In addition to Leonard and Butler, the Lakers could also pursue Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving and reunite him with James, considering how he has “repaired and re-opened” his relationship with the four-time MVP in recent months. Per Windhorst, it’s possible that the Lakers could arrange a meeting with the All-Star guard, who, during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, won a championship alongside James in 2016.
Despite all that, Windhorst added that Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant’s free-agency decision could have an impact on Irving’s choice of teams this summer due to the “strong relationship” between both players. Earlier on Thursday, Bleacher Report wrote that the latest Las Vegas betting odds still show the New York Knicks as the top favorites to sign Durant in the offseason, adding that ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith recently gave the Knicks a “95 percent chance” of signing both Durant and Irving.
Windhorst’s comments about LeBron James reportedly reaching out to Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler came just a few days after The Athletic‘s Sam Amick reported that there are people close to James who believe the Lakers’ dysfunctional situation could make them a less appealing destination for free agents this summer. As cited by USA Today‘s LeBron Wire, these concerns were raised even before Johnson appeared on ESPN’s First Take on Monday and opened up about the turmoil he and the Lakers went through during his time as team president.