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Lakers Face Increased Pressure to Acquire Kawhi Leonard as LeBron James’ Decision Looms

The Los Angeles Lakers are facing increased pressure to complete a trade for discontented San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard with LeBron James still unsure over his free agency plans, according to ESPN.

Leonard, unhappy with the Spurs’ over their treatment of a thigh injury, does not want to remain in San Antonio next season. Shortly after news broke of Leonard’s desire to leave, a number of teams showed interest in the 26-year-old. In fact, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, LA Clippers, and Philadelphia 76ers have all made offers for Leonard.

However, Leonard has made it clear that he prefers a trade to the Magic Johnson-led Lakers.

Additionally, there is a growing sense that the outcome of the Lakers’ negotiations for Leonard will have significant impact on Cavs superstar James’ free agency plans. James is tentative to make a decision on Los Angeles without the ball club first acquiring a big-name talent in the vein of a Leonard or Paul George.

The Lakers’ position has been further complicated by the intentions of both the organizations and the players they hope to involve in a trade. The Lakers’ initial conversation with the Spurs was said to be unproductive, but the San Antonio organization have not dismissed moving Leonard on to any single team.

Moreover, the Thunder’s George is no longer a lock to sign with the Lakers, according to sources. Last year, George had told the Indiana Pacers that he intended to join the Lakers in free agency in 2019, and the Lakers elected not to make an offer for the forward, expecting George to move to Los Angeles this year.

With George now considering a return to OKC and conversations with the Spurs yet to progress, the Lakers are not certain to acquire a free agent in the summer.

If the Lakers were to successfully execute a trade for one of James, Leonard and George, such a transaction would undoubtedly require the Lakers to part ways with multiple members of their promising young core. Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, or even Lonzo Ball could be used as pieces to push through a trade.

While the Lakers hope to acquire a superstar free agent in the offseason, the Cavaliers are working to keep their marquee talent for at least another year. As mentioned previously, the Cavs have also shown interest in a trade for Leonard. However, unlike the Lakers, the Cavs lack the cap space to sign a superstar free-agent like Leonard. The Cavaliers’ intention to keep forward Kevin Love is yet another obstacle for the franchise, seeing as the former Minnesota Timberwolf is the Cavs only tangible trade asset.

In turn, the Cleveland organization is looking into various possibilities to clear cap space. These efforts, though, have been delayed by James’ decision to not engage with the Cavaliers prior to free agency. James’ decisions in recent years to not commit his long-term future to the Cavs have created similar stumbling blocks.

The Cavs deal for OKC’s George last year broke down after the Cavs were reluctant give up a first-round pick without knowing whether James intended to stay on. Similarly, it will be difficult for Cleveland to compete for the talents of superstar free-agents without communication with and assurances from James.

Photo: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
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