ESPN’s Brian Windhorst was a guest for Thursday’s episode of Pardon The Interruption and during his appearance he gave some evidence to what many were already assuming: LeBron is recruiting free agents, namely Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia’s Jimmy Butler.
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“From what I understand, he has already begun the recruiting process. I’ve heard he has had contact with Kawhi Leonard. I’ve heard he has had contact with Jimmy Butler. There is no tampering enforcement by players. … 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 the hurdles that they’re going to have.”
According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, appearing on ESPN Radio L.A. with Jorge Sedano, LeBron was in Philadelphia to meet with Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard during the their series against the 76ers.
The Los Angeles Clippers are expected to make the most aggressive push for Leonard, and they’ve made little secret of it. The Clippers have had representatives at many Raptors games this season, home and away, ranging from scouts, to assistant general manager Mark Hughes – who attended Friday’s game against Oklahoma City – to team president Lawrence Frank and billionaire owner Steve Ballmer.The Clippers – like the Lakers, who some league insiders believe to be less of a draw to Leonard – can offer at least a few things Toronto can’t. They can offer a warmer climate and an opportunity for the California native to play closer to home. If those are the factors that end up powering Leonard’s decision, the Raptors don’t stand a chance and likely never did.
Leonard, of course, is a Southern California guy. It’s no secret that Toronto will always be at a disadvantage in keeping Leonard because of the weather, and while the Lakers were targeting Leonard last summer, talk with folks in the Clippers’ ranks, and there is an obvious confidence that they could lure Leonard into the blue-and-red next summer.
Asked to handicap Leonard’s future, one front office executive from another team said, “I think the Lakers are out, but the Clippers are the ones who think they have a shot at him if they decide to go that route. You hear a lot, he still wants to be on the West Coast. But give that group in Toronto all the credit in the world. They’re making it a tough decision for him. “It might come down to just, ‘All right, how did the playoffs go, and how far are we from a championship?'”
A survey of several league executives this weekend had the Lakers trailing, even among Staples Center tenants, in the competition to get Leonard, with the LA Clippers universally being placed ahead of them. Rather than seeking to team up with James, the thinking is that Leonard would prefer to have control of his own team, which the Clippers would offer, while still giving him the ability to return to his native Southern California.
Eric Smith: When asked about being back home in California and if he grew up a fan of the Lake Show… Kawhi Leonard said his family were fans of the Lakers but he added, “I liked Allen Iverson. I was an A.I. fan. I didn’t like the Lakers.”
Farbod Esnaashari: Ramona Shelburne: The #Clippers are the number one ranked team for Kawhi Leonard next season. The #Raptors are number two, and the #Lakers are number three. Via: 710 ESPN Mason and Ireland
One name that’s flown under the radar to a large extent — despite a seamless fit and connections to the Lakers organization — is Klay Thompson, and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN says his name has come up with those she’s spoken to in an appearance on “ESPNLA Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ and Travis”: “In terms of who they target next year, it’s whoever wants to come. “My feeling about it, my sense from just talking to people in and around this (is that) one, it’s a little early, but I think they like Mychal’s boy. I think that would be the guy, in terms of skillset and how that would fit. Obviously Kawhi, he’s a great player as well, but we’ll see if he stays in Toronto now. But I think they like Klay (Thompson).”
So far, Leonard’s preference is to sign in Los Angeles with either the Lakers or Clippers next season, sources told Wojnarowski.
As has been well-documented, the task for Toronto in the coming year is to persuade Leonard to stay in a place and perform for a team for which he had no desire to play just a few short weeks ago. It’s a tall order, and if the Raptors can do it, the massive gamble they took this month will have paid off. Most around the league still expect that Leonard will look to return home to Southern California, either to join LeBron James with the Lakers or bring his star power to the Clippers.
Bruce Arthur: “One thing I was told last night is that Kawhi Leonard has already been planning out his free agency for next year and he’s already been in contact with other star players in the league, saying, ‘hey, where might you want to play with me? What are we looking at?’ And it wasn’t just L.A. he was talking about. Brooklyn was maybe somewhere that’ll have a ton of cap space. That’s a possibility.”
MARC STEIN: But I did hear enough chatter in various Vegas conversations to believe that the Raptors have given legit consideration to gambling on a trade for Leonard, with three obvious problems to contend with: 1) Leonard can leave in free agency at season’s end, even if the Raptors are fortunate enough to trade for him. 2) Leonard’s camp has given no indication to any interested team that he plans to sign anywhere but Los Angeles (with either the Lakers or the Clippers) in July 2019. 3) Leonard’s readiness for next season, thanks to the quadriceps injury that limited him to nine games last season, has to concern teams in Toronto’s position as much as the idea of trading for him and losing him months later.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on his podcast, the Lakers don’t appear to feel a sense of urgency in trading for Leonard: “To this point in trade discussions, the Lakers have not shown a sense of urgency to make a Kawhi Leonard trade.”
Peter Vecsey: “Kawhi is seriously prepared to sacrifice $80 million to play in L.A.,” says the same associate. He’s entitled to an extension worth $219M should Pop do the unthinkable and play nice. He could also play hard ass and pay Kawhi what’s on the books — $20,099,188. “He ain’t giving up 80 million to play in Boston or Philly!” the associate asserts.
Peter Vecsey: Before calling Kawhi a wrap, an additional inaccuracy needs to be corrected. Despite what you may have read or been told by two national columnists, Kawhi has absolutely no reservations about playing with LeBron James. “He’d be glad to play with him,” the associate stresses. “If not, he would do the Clippers.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: “I’ve been told that one of the reasons [Kawhi Leonard] looks at going to the Clippers – is a little less motivated [to go to the Clippers] is because initially, the idea of Los Angeles was fine to him – he preferred the Lakers but was all right with the Clippers – but now that LeBron James is there, the idea of going head-to-head with LeBron – to have Kawhi with the Clippers and LeBron with the Lakers, and to maybe feel dwarfed by that – I’m told that’s become far less appealing for him.”
ESPNLosAngeles: “They’ve [Lakers] been willing to offer what they consider to be a fair package but they’ve made it very clear to San Antonio that Kyle Kuzma is off limits…they’re not letting go of Kuzma.” – @stephenasmith on the Lakers not wanting to trade Kuzma
Albert Nahmad: Lakers can still trade for Kawhi Leonard. They’d need to send out at least $14M (or once they reach the cap, $15M) to do it. But it feels to me like they don’t feel as much pressure to do it. They seem to be preserving flexibility for next summer (for Kawhi or whoever else).
Unless the Lakers can acquire Kawhi Leonard in a trade, it’s likely James will be the only marquee star headed to Los Angeles this summer. He’s well aware of that, and according to one source with knowledge of his thinking, James isn’t bothered by it. He is trying to build something sustainable over the twilight of his career and he’s doing it with one of the most legendary teams in sports; it’s the equivalent to playing for the Yankees in baseball.
With LeBron officially agreeing to sign with the Lakers, it’ll be fascinating to monitor what type of leverage the Spurs can create for Kawhi Leonard, who still desires to play for the Lakers, according to multiple league sources—all of whom say offers to the Spurs have been underwhelming. One executive said the proposed packages have gotten worse with each round of negotiations, while another said they’re flat-out unacceptable. That might change if the Lakers are determined to add their second star now. Multiple league sources suggest the Lakers could send a package to the Spurs featuring Ingram, multiple first-round picks, a sign-and-trade involving Randle, and possibly Josh Hart.
Chris Haynes: As @JabariJYoung pointed out, sources say Kawhi Leonard would entertain signing longterm with Philadelphia. However, if Lakers are unable to orchestra a trade of the All-Star, it’s not a given he would sign there in summer of 19.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker.
Ohm Youngmisuk: Woj says Lakers have not been super aggressive with Spurs on Kawhi talks and that Lakers may want to see how things play out with LeBron. Spurs want a ton for Kawhi.
Jordan Zirm: Woj on SportsCenter saying the Lakers haven’t gained any traction with the Spurs for Kawhi. So if LeBron chooses LA, he really could be going alone
Sagar Trika: Woj: The Spurs have not ruled out any team to trade Kawhi Leonard to, and that includes the Lakers. It would be a bad negotiating tactic to remove a bidder like that.
Sources at several teams confirmed tidbits in those stories that the Lakers are reaching out across the league in search of an extra first-round pick, indicating they would take on some unwanted future salary to snare it — a fascinating twist, given L.A.’s need to hoard cap space. That alone indicates the Lakers are at least a little worried, and interested in nabbing Leonard now.
But the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers have been pressing the Spurs to trade Leonard this week, as both teams believe that acquiring Leonard would put them in pole position to try to sign LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers when free agency starts Sunday at 12:01 a.m., Eastern time. The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers are also known trade suitors for Leonard.
Adrian Wojnarowski: The Spurs are fully engaged in trade talks with several teams on Kawhi Leonard, including the Lakers and Celtics, league sources tell ESPN. Boston has long had the assets that the Spurs most covet in a potential Leonard trade.
The stakes on these talks are enormous, because a deal for Leonard would likely clinch a free agent commitment out of LeBron James. James has until late Friday night to opt-out of the final year of his contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and is watching closely how the Lakers proceed with the Leonard talks.
The Lakers are in no rush to sign the 25th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft, Michigan forward Mo Wagner, to his rookie scale deal, which would allow the Lakers to include his draft rights into a trade package, league sources said. Wagner couldn’t be traded for 30 days once he signs his rookie deal. The Lakers are pursuing an additional first-round pick on the trade market too, offering to incur a salary dump of contracts to get a pick, league sources said.
Tania Ganguli: Can confirm @ramonashelburne’s report that the Lakers and Spurs re-engaged today about Kawhi Leonard. Was told by a source it was a “productive” call.
Ramona Shelburne: Update from this morning’s story. The Lakers re-engaged the Spurs Wednesday in aggressively pursuing Kawhi Leonard. Story w/ @Adrian Wojnarowski coming shortly on ESPN. This is the first contact between the teams since the Spurs “shut the door” on them after an initial call.
As LeBron James remains hesitant to be the first superstar to decide on the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, pressure is mounting for the Lakers front office to execute a trade with the San Antonio Spurs to acquire disgruntled All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard, league sources told ESPN.
Peter Vecsey: Now what? “Emotionally, Kawhi has checked out of the Spurs. He wants the Lakers, even though it means forfeiting $80 million. Everyone is shocked he’d give up that much money. But when it’s emotional, there’s no logic,” said the source. “He’s an artist. When artists know they’re getting jerked, they want out no matter what the cost. He feels the organization didn’t even try to wrap its arms around him. You don’t know anyone until you go through something difficult. Kawhi got to see people’s true colors.
ESPN Los Angeles: “From what I am being told…he’s made it very, very clear that he’s looking to go to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers and he does not care about the $219 million super max he could sign.” – @stephenasmith on Kawhi Leonard
Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said Thursday night that the franchise’s desire is to keep disgruntled All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard in the fold but that the club “will explore all of our options.” Among the issues Leonard has had with the Spurs is his frustration with the team’s handling of a quadriceps injury that kept him out of action for all but nine games this past season. Leonard wants to be traded to Los Angeles, preferably to the Lakers, sources have told ESPN.
According to Robinson, Kawhi has to take responsibility and step up as a leader of the franchise if he wants to be viewed on the same level as LeBron James. “If you want to be a top two or three player in the league, you’ve got to be a leader. LeBron doesn’t sit around waiting for people to talk for him. LeBron gets out there and says ‘hey, this is my team, this is what’s happening.’ And I think that’s where Kawhi is. He’s meant so much for our franchise. We love him, we all want him to be there next year. But we want him to be there and take control.”
Ramona Shelburne: Within the last week the Lakers contacted the Spurs to discuss a Kawhi Leonard trade. As one source put it, “they basically shut the door on us.”
Shams Charania: The Los Angeles Lakers have reached out to the San Antonio Spurs to express interest in All-Star Kawhi Leonard, league sources tell Yahoo. No proposals have been discussed.
Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said. The Spurs are unlikely to be motivated to facilitate a deal to the Lakers, league sources said.
The star forward’s willingness to leave the Spurs became clear Friday morning, when the San Antonio Express News first reported he wants to be traded. According to sources not authorized to speak publicly, the Lakers have long been Leonard’s preferred destination, though the Clippers are among the teams he would consider.
But once they reach that breaking point, the Spurs still don’t need to acquiesce to Leonard’s wishes regarding where he wants to play. League sources have long felt that Leonard would prefer to play close to home. Leonard was born in Los Angeles, grew up in nearby Riverside, and went to college in San Diego, where he still spends each summer.
Jorge Sierra: This comes via @BovadaLV. #KawhiSweepstakes
Kevin O’Connor: Expect the the Sixers, Celtics, Lakers and Clippers to be the main four teams pursuing Kawhi Leonard, per sources. Teams with top picks could always jump into the sweepstakes, but the risk would be significant considering Leonard has just one more season left on his contract.
Adrian Wojnarowski: San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.
Sources: So far, Leonard has expressed nothing directly to Spurs about future. Lakers and Clippers interest Leonard — and both teams would move quickly to assemble packages to acquire Leonard. Spurs won’t rush. Leonard and his camp had shown interest in $219M super max deal.
Leonard has grown uncomfortable with the Spurs organization and is ready to move on, league sources said.
Chris Mannix: Look for the Lakers to make a big play for Kawhi Leonard. LA has the pieces, and can feel comfortable that Leonard wants to be there long term.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have interest in Leonard, each with a differing array of young assets to trade for him now and the potential of salary-cap space to sign Leonard outright in 2019. In the end, Leonard could dictate his destination based on his willingness to sign long term upon a trade. Oklahoma City acquired All-Star forward Paul George last summer without a commitment, and there will undoubtedly be a few teams with a similarly adventurous spirit in pursuit of Leonard.
It’s commonly heard on the front office grapevine that Leonard is eyeing the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. One of the Western Conference executives noted it’s no accident that the Lakers reportedly have shifted their free-agent plans to focus on the ’19 class (which Leonard may headline), according to Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, as opposed to a quick fix this summer. “That’s why [the Lakers] are spinning it into ‘wait till next year,'” the executive said. “They know they can get Kawhi.”
On Monday, LaVar, LiAngelo and LaMelo appeared in studio with ESPN LA’s Marcellus Wiley and Travis Rodgers. Late in the interview, the potential of Lonzo getting traded for Leonard and was brought up. LaVar was having none of it. He said: “Stop it. Stop it. I’m gonna tell you why (that won’t happen). You know what Lonzo is to me? Gelo is my pretty boy. This (LaMelo) is my wow boy. But Zo is the people’s choice. They won’t let it happen. You can’t get rid of Zo! He’s the people’s choice. “Everybody on the outside can say what they want, but when you put it down on paper, the Ball boys are good for business.”
That cheering you hear is the parade cranking up in Lakerdom. Byron Scott, who is close to Magic Johnson, actually announced on ESPN, “I’m going to tell you something right now. LeBron (James) is coming to the Lakers along with Kawhi. We’re back in the Finals!” Reports dovetailing with that one swept the league: Kawhi, a Los Angeles guy who grew up in the Inland Empire, wants to come home. Kawhi, who has one year left on his contract, will force a trade to the Lakers.
With less to offer in trade than other teams, the Lakers need Leonard to force a deal, which he may well try, and for the Spurs to accede, which is less likely…. It’s one of Popovich’s cardinal rules not to help West rivals, much less one with the tradition and resources of the Lakers. Popovich almost never says a bad word about another team but went bonkers in 2008 when Memphis traded Pau Gasol to the post-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers, setting them up for three Finals runs and two titles. “What they did in Memphis is beyond comprehension,” said Popovich then. “… I just wish I had been on a trade committee that oversees NBA trades. I’d like to elect myself to that committee. I would have voted no to the L.A. trade.”
Chris Mannix: “The one thing the Spurs have to decide over the next few weeks is: Are they prepared to make Kawhi Leonard a super-max offer? Because if they make Kawhi a super-max offer — when I talk to other teams, they’d be stunned if Kawhi turned it down. That’s just real money. The oft repeated phrase I hear is, ‘Take the money and demand a trade later.’ You can’t get that money back from another team in a potential trade. So the Spurs have to decide if they want to do that. If they don’t, then they have to put him on the market. In that situation, the situation is irreconcilable. Now, you hear the Lakers, you hear the Knicks, Boston will be in line for this. They absolutely will make an offer of some type for Kawhi Leonard. And they still have more assets than anyone else.”
Former Lakers coach and star Byron Scott, for one, said this week that he believes the team has targeted this summer for a quick jump-start rebuild, suggesting that LA will wind up with both Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James this summer. Around the league, front-office sources agree with at least half that assessment. “I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”
But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here. “I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”
On his new show, “Pull Up” podcast, CJ weighed in on Kawhi’s future implying he could be home bound to California bound to join the Lakers and be offered plenty of money with their cap space. “It’s a very sticky situation right now in San Antonio, I’m gonna put it like this… He’s from California, lot of cap space out there in California”
Robinson added California is Leonard’s desired destination: Believe you me, he definitely wants to be somewhere especially like being at home.
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May 25, 2019 | 5:10 am EDT Update
Irving apologized to James for the way things ended between them in Cleveland, and the All-Star guard reportedly “has had discussions” about joining the Lakers this summer. A James-Irving reunion might seem far-fetched, but the two stars hung out together Thursday in Los Angeles, and then James liked a photoshopped picture of Irving in a Lakers jersey.
Even though the Lakers talk is the hot rumor, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan poured some cold water on it Friday on the latest Hoop Collective podcast. “I did a little digging around and my feeling is very strongly that while LeBron and Kyrie have kissed and made up, that Kyrie is not going there,” she said. “He’s just not. I just don’t believe it. And I think people close to him just don’t believe it either.”
No LeBron hammer dunks in May. No LeBron chase-down blocks in June. No LeBron mini-dramas. No winding, reflective postgame sermons. No leviathan for upstarts to slay. “It’s just weird,” the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green said. “More as a basketball fan than anything: ‘Damn, Bron not there.’ It’s super weird. You always relish the opportunity to play against a talent like that.”
Mike D’Antoni said negotiations are taking place that he is hopeful will keep him in Houston beyond next season. D’Antoni has one year left on his Rockets deal. “We’ve been in contract discussions and we still are about the extension,” D’Antoni said in an interview with FOX 26 Sports. “I think I can go two or three more years at the level I want to be at and everything will play out in the near future.”
D’Antoni said a lot of work has already been done toward completing a contract extension. “It’s a good ways (into it). I don’t do it. That’s my agent. He takes care of that stuff. They’ve been discussing it for a long time now. It just hasn’t been a couple weeks. It’s been awhile that they’ve been talking. So they’ll figure it out. “Everybody likes security. It’s just a matter of okay this is the direction the organization wants to go. I want to be a part of it. It’s just normal business and we just got to take care of business.”