Lakers go all-in on Kawhi Leonard!

How a draft day trade of Ingram, Hart, Zubac, and 25th pick for Kawhi could trigger the Lakers’ transformation this summer

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It doesn’t take a genius to see the dominos are starting to lineup nicely for the Lakers this summer. A draft day trade of Ingram, Hart, Zubac, and 25th pick for Kawhi Leonard could trigger the Lakers’ transformation into a contender.

Needless to say, the Lakers would have to be completely convinced Leonard had no long term health issues and would commit to signing the 4-year $140 million extension for which he would be eligible in order to go all in on him. But a healthy Kawhi Leonard is a transcendent player, a true superstar and perennial MVP and DPOY candidate, and a player who would quickly attract other superstars like Paul George, LeBron James, and DeMarcus Cousins.

While you could argue that the smart thing for the Lakers to do would be to wait until next summer when Leonard would be a free agent like they did with George rather than give up three top prospects and a first round pick. Kawhi Leonard is not Paul George and the Lakers appear to not want to take a chance Kawhi somehow gets lost on his way to the Lakers’ summer of 2019. When you have a chance to get a top-five player in his prime, you pounce.

I love Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Ivica Zubac and I’m confident the Lakers’ front office could find a gem with the #25 pick in the draft. But I also know you don’t win NBA championships without a top five player and, as talented as Ingram, Hart, and Zubac are, none of them are likely to get close to being the superstar player that Leonard is now or will become. The only two players I would not trade to get Kawhi are Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.

As painful as it would be, trading Ingram, Hart, and Zubac and the #25 pick for Kawhi is the move the Lakers must make, that important first domino they need to topple to trigger the following moves they need to complete their transformation to a team that’s ready and able to compete for championships. Trading for Kawhi changed the Lakers’ championship window, turning them into an attractive landing spot for the elite free agents who want to win now.

Bottom line, that’s exactly what Magic Johnson wants and needs to convince Paul George or LeBron James or DeMarcus Cousins this summer that the Lakers are just a superstar away from competing for an NBA championship.

After trading for Kawhi, the Lakers will have a choice of dominos to topple. They could create $56 million cap space by clearing the books of everybody but Lonzo, Kuzma, and Kawhi and try to convince two superstars like LeBron James and Paul George to sign at a slight discount to form a Lakers’ big three. Or they could sign a second superstar like Paul George and use the remaining cap space and Bird rights on their own free agents to build out the roster.

Adding a second superstar would also allow the Lakers to keep vital roster pieces needed to compete like Julius Randle and/or Isaiah Thomas as well as promising young center Thomas Bryant. The Lakers would also still have $3.4 million in cap space, $4.2 million room exception, and minimum contracts to fill out the roster with quality veteran players looking to join a championship contender like Brook Lopez, Will Barton, Trevor Ariza, and Nerlens Noel.

Here are examples of possible Lakers’ lineups after a Kawhi Leonard trade:

STARTING LINEUP:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Paul George
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Julius Randle
CE: Brook Lopez

SMALL BALL LINEUP:
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Paul George
SF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Kyle Kuzma
CE: Julius Randle

BACKUP LINEUP:
PG: Isaiah Thomas
SG: Will Barton
SF: Trevor Ariza
PF: Kyle Kuzma
CE: Nerlens Noel

Right now, nobody knows for sure what’s really happening with Kawhi and the Spurs. But if Kawhi has no long term medical issues and forces his way out of San Antonio, the Lakers need to be ready to move to trade for him.

It was no surprise that Magic didn’t want to talk when asked about the possibility of trading any of the young core this summer. He knows Lakers’ fans have come to love this young core but he knows how important Kawhi would be as the centerpiece of the Lakers makeover. His talent and mentality are exactly what the franchise needs to replace Kobe Bryant and bring their championship window in sync with elite free agents who want to win now.

Trading for Kawhi would cost the Lakers valuable young talent but would also pretty much guarantees they‘ll be able to attract a second superstar and enables them to keep Randle and/or Thomas and build a better bench than if they just added two superstars through free agency. The trade also provides them with a top five superstar and legitimate MVP candidate who is still only 27. You could argue the Lakers need to trade for Kawhi Leonard at any price.

Which brings us to Kyle Kuzma, who is likely to become the player the Spurs demand in trade for Kawhi Leonard and the player the Lakers refuse to trade. I’d personally throw in another first round pick before I caved and agreed to trade Kuzma but I can’t help feeling that Magic would ultimately give him up. That’s how transcendent and important Kawhi Leonard is. Landing him this summer would be akin to the Lakers trading for LeBron James in his prime.

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