There are superstars and then there are superstars.
The sudden potential availability of Kawhi Leonard has likely caused Magic Johnson and Lakers’ front office to rethink their grand plan for this summer. No disrespect to Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins but trading for Kawhi Leonard could make the Lakers an irresistible landing spot for LeBron James. Acquiring a pair of MVP caliber superstars like Kawhi and LeBron would immediately transform the Lakers into a legitimate championship contender.
Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James would give the Lakers two of the top five players in the league to compete with the Warrior’s and Rockets’ dynamic duos of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant or James Harden and Chris Paul. While trading for Kawhi would cost them promising young talent, it would enable the Lakers to keep Julius Randle and Isaiah Thomas, two of their own free agents, and make them a premier landing site for vets chasing a ring.
The first step in the process would be trading for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who would likely cost the Lakers budding star Brandon Ingram plus talented players Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac as well as the team’s 2020 first round pick. The Lakers will need some creative cap magic to pull of a trade for Kawhi as they just don’t have enough salaries to match without adding Deng and other players from the Spurs side or involving a third team to make the trade work.
The second step would be finding a team to take over Luol Deng’s contract. Ideally, the Lakers would involve that team as the third team in their trade for Kawhi Leonard. In the following three team trade, for example, the Lakers would trade Ingram, Hart, and Zubac plus their 2020 first round pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and then trade Deng, $5 million cash, and the Cavs’ first round pick to the Mavs for Barea, who has $3.9 million 1-year contract.
After making this trade and renouncing Lopez, the Lakers would have $33.3 million in salaries for Leonard, Barea, Ball, Kuzma, and Bryant and $28.4 million in cap holds for Randle, Thomas, and 5 empty slots, leaving them $37.4 million in available cap space for free agents. If they sign LeBron to a 4-year deal starting at $34.7 million, the Lakers would then have 2.7 million in cap space left plus their $4.2 million room exception to fill out the roster.
After signing LeBron, the Lakers could then use Bird rights to go over the cap to sign Julius Randle and Isaiah Thomas for whatever salaries and durations they agreed. I would guess Randle would be worthy of 4-year deal starting from $16–20 million per year and Thomas a 1-year deal for $10–16 million. Ideally, the Lakers would have negotiated these tentative deals with Randle and Thomas ahead of time so they never hit the open market or get offers.
Were the Lakers to able to land Kawhi and LeBron per the above scenario, here’s what the Lakers roster for next season could look like, assuming they could convince Brook Lopez to return for the $4.2 million room exception and attract several veterans looking to join the Lakers to win a ring.
PG: Lonzo Ball, JJ Barea, Tyler Ennis
SG: Isaiah Thomas,
SF: Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Kuzma
PF: LeBron James, Julius Randle. Travis Wear
CE: Brook Lopez, Thomas Bryant, Channing Frye
A team led by Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, arguably the two greatest two-way players in the league, backed by quality vets in their prime in Isaiah Thomas and Brook Lopez and budding All-Stars Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma, and Lonzo Ball would be Magic’s and the Lakers’ ultimate dream team.