Everybody seems to assume that Kawhi Leonard is the perfect superstar for the Lakers to pursue. A former NBA champion, Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP, and two-time All Star, Kawhi’s an undisputed top-5 NBA player.
Yet there are some emerging issues that should make the Lakers think twice about whether the enigmatic Kawhi is the right fit for the bright lights of the Lakers. There seems to be little doubt Kawhi is homesick and wants to return to Los Angeles. The rumors that he has been “flipping back and forth between Lakers and Clippers” and didn’t like “all the attention surrounding his injury” have to make you speculate that Kawhi might be a better fit for the Clippers.
Playing for the Lakers takes an advanced degree of mental toughness and a thick skin to deal with all the Hollywood Hoopla that surrounds the team. What’s Kawhi going to say the first time LaVar eviscerates him? Or LeBron gives him the Kobe death stare? Kawhi may be quiet but he’s certainly not low maintenance. He complained the Spurs vets didn’t appreciate him and front office didn’t give him the same respect as David Robinson and Tim Duncan.
Finally, there’s the serious quad injury situation that needs to be resolved and the potentially troublesome issues of the divergent interests in Kawhi’s camp. Ignoring these serious warning signs could be disastrous for the Lakers because Kawhi won’t sign an extension for $80 million less than he would get by becoming an unrestricted free agent summer of 2019, which means the Lakers could be at risk of giving up key assets just to rent Kawhi for a year.
Bottom line, the Lakers would be foolish to trade for Kawhi without having a face-to-face meeting to make sure he’s in the right frame of mind and would fit in with the Lakers vision for the team. Similarly, I don’t see any real motive for the Spurs to complete a trade before July 1st or to accept a trade that includes absorbing Deng’s bad contract. That means there is likely no chance the Lakers will be able to clear enough cap space for both LeBron and PG.
But if the Lakers traded for Kawhi Leonard, they would still have the cap space to sign one of LeBron James or Paul George and keep Julius Randle. The big question facing the Lakers then would be which superstar to sign. The silver lining if the Lakers opted to sign Paul George instead of LeBron, they would then still have the cap space to try and sign Isaiah Thomas to a 1-year short term deal that would allow them to maintain his Bird rights.
Nobody knows right now where this is all headed. We’ve heard from Kawhi’s camp but not from Kawhi himself. Maybe Pops will be able to change his mind like he did with LaMarcus Aldridge. Maybe the Spurs take the hard road and tell Kawhi they’re not going to trade him and instead hope they can change his mind. Maybe they’ll trade him to the Clippers to spite the Lakers. With the draft and free agency looming, we should get the answers shortly.
For me, a Kawhi Leonard and Paul George duo could be a dream come true, providing Kawhi decides he can handle the bright lights of Hollywood and the Lakers ultimately decide Kawhi Leonard is the right fit for the Lakers.