The trade talks surrounding San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard continue to rumble on.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and the San Antonio Express-News' Jeff McDonald report that the Spurs are engaged in trade talks with several teams on Leonard, including the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Here's more from Wojnarowski:
The Spurs are clearly open to making a deal in the short-term, but remain in pursuit of a major return of assets for Leonard, a two-time first-team All-NBA player. San Antonio has had hopes of repairing its tattered relationship with Leonard and ultimately get to a comfort level with offering the $219 million super maximum contract extension. Leonard can opt-out of his contract and become a free agent next summer.
For now, the urgency of the Lakers July 1 free agent push for LeBron James and Paul George places a clock on its talks with the Spurs.
The Spurs have long been most intrigued with Boston's trade assets, but it remains unclear how rich of a package the Celtics are willing to offer without a full understanding of the long-term implications of Leonard's quad injury, nor an assurance that they can be certain of Leonard's willingness to consider a long-term commitment next summer, league sources said.
In short, it appears the Spurs are ready to move on from Leonard, writes McDonald, and the Lakers and Celtics appear to be the most compatible trade partners at this point:
Two clubs have emerged as the most compatible trade partners: The Los Angeles Lakers, Leonard’s preferred destination, and the Boston Celtics, whose deep cache of assets - including as many as four first-round picks in next year’s NBA draft - the Spurs are said to covet.
Cleveland, Philadelphia and the L.A. Clippers have also called about a Leonard deal, but it is unclear how much traction those talks have made, if any.
Though the situation could change in a matter of days or even hours, the Leonard era in San Antonio appears to be on its last legs.
Rival executives do not expect the Spurs to rush a trade, even with the NBA’s free agency period set to open late Saturday night.
The Spurs’ newfound willingness to discuss a Leonard deal might be in response to an increased quality of the offers they are receiving.
Additionally, The New York Times' Marc Stein reports (via Twitter) that league sources indicate the Spurs are "ready" to move on from Leonard:
This doesn't guarantee Kawhi Leonard is going to the Lakers this week -- since San Antonio could always trade him elsewhere and/or drag things out -- but league sources say of the Spurs: "They're ready" to move on from Kawhi
The Lakers and Spurs reportedly re-engaged in trade discussions surrounding Leonard on Wednesday. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported on Wednesday night that, despite the Spurs' attempts to make peace with their disgruntled star, an overwhelming offer from the Lakers could spark a deal.
Both teams also believe a Leonard trade would "likely clinch" a commitment from LeBron James to join the Lakers as a free agent, per ESPN. James has until Friday at 11:59 ET to decline his player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers to become an unrestricted free agent.
It had been reported by ESPN that the Lakers were feeling pressure to quickly land Leonard in an effort to lure James, who is reportedly hesitant to join the team without another star in place.
The Celtics have been reported to have an interest in Leonard, too. However, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reported on Wednesday that the likelihood of the Celtics landing Leonard seems slim at best. As for the discussions held Wednesday, Los Angeles Times' Tania Ganguli said a source described the call as "productive."
Aside from the Leonard chatter, the Lakers gave young forward Julius Randle a qualifying offer yesterday, ensuring he will be a restricted free agent this summer. That move, too, could play into what happens next for the Lakers in free agency, writes Ganguli:
The most financially simple way for the Lakers to add two free agents under maximum deals would be for them to renounce their rights to Randle and waive and stretch payments to forward Luol Deng, who played 13 minutes last season, all in the Lakers’ season opener. Deng is owed $18 million in each of the next two seasons and stretching his contract would spread the salary cap hit out over five years, saving the Lakers nearly $12 million on next season’s salary cap.
If they are able to trade for Leonard, that might involve trading away Deng’s contract, and removing that salary cap hit from their books outright. That move would also open the door to sign two free agents to maximum deals in addition to Leonard. It could clear the way for the Lakers to add Leonard, LeBron James and Paul George for next season.
Leonard played in just nine games for San Antonio in the 2017-18 campaign due to a quad injury he initially suffered in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals. The two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year's absence was especially notable late in the season, when he went to New York to continue rehab and chose not to be with the team during its playoff run. San Antonio was defeated 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs by eventual-champion Golden State.
The two-time All-Star Leonard can enter unrestricted free agency in 2019 if he does not sign a contract extension with the Spurs this summer. Leonard is due just over $20 million next season.
The tension surrounding the situation between Leonard and the Spurs intensified when, after opting to not be with the team for rehab reasons, Leonard was spotted three weeks later attending a Dodgers game in Los Angeles.
San Antonio is hoping to regain the usual good footing it holds with its stars in order to maintain the standard of excellence they have maintained since drafting Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in 1997. The Spurs had won at least 50 games in every season until 2017-18, when they went 47-35 and finished seventh in the Western Conference.
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Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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