Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have undoubtedly been working 24/7 to solve the vexing but intoxicating question of how to fit three superstars who suddenly want to play for the Lakers into the cap space for two superstars.
After flurries of worries the Lakers might come up empty in free agency, the landscape has suddenly taken a turn for the better. LeBron James is now odds on favorite in Vegas to sign with the Lakers while Paul George is rumored to be have finally decided to leave the Thunder. Like the sun breaking through after a long storm, Magic Johnson’s original grand plan to sign two superstars in free agency this summer suddenly looks like it’s actually going to happen.
But before Lakers’ fans could celebrate, even more good news hit the wires. Kawhi Leonard suddenly announced he no longer wanted to play with the Spurs and wanted a trade to the Lakers or he’d sign with them as a free agent next summer. LeBron may be the best player on the planet and PG a perfect fit for the Lakers, but when a former NBA Champ, Finals MVP and two-time DPOY wants to join your team, that’s an opportunity you can’t let pass by.
With LeBron James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard all potentially wanting to play for the Lakers next season, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka need to figure out how they can somehow acquire all three superstars for the Lakers. There are realistically two options. The Lakers can trade for Kawhi and sign LeBron and PG this summer or they can sign LeBron and PG this summer and trade for Kawhi before the trade deadline, although that could be impossible.
There are two problems with waiting to trade for Kawhi Leonard midseason. First, the Spurs will probably have already traded him a team in the East. Second, they will probably have gotten a fair price for him because everybody would have known that the Lakers no longer could sign him in free agency because they spent all their cap space to sign LeBron James and Paul George. That means the Lakers cannot wait for midseason if they want to get Kawhi.
Realistically, the only viable path for the Lakers to land all three superstars would have to start with a trade for Kawhi before free agency, which means giving the Spurs an offer they simply can’t afford to turn down. To me, that would be a straight up trade of Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma for Kawhi Leonard. That is an offer the Spurs would not be able to decline, especially if the Lakers advised the Spurs they would save cap space for him if no trade.
While giving up Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma for Kawhi Leonard would be a startling and bold move, it’s a move that essentially guarantees LeBron James will sign with the Lakers and leaves them with cap space to build a strong bench or, if they can move Deng’s contract without taking back salary, to sign Paul George as their third superstar or possibly save that cap space for the summer of 2019 when Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving hit free agency.
The timing is vexing as LeBron would have to opt out of the last year of his contract with the Cavaliers on Friday and the Lakers and Spurs would have to reach agreement before free agency starts on Sunday. I love the Lakers young core but Magic Johnson has made it clear that Lakers exceptionalism is not dead and he has an opportunity over the next few days to essentially trade Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma for Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James.
That’s too big an opportunity for Magic Johnson and the Lakers to let pass by.