Leonard and James have been mentioned together in umpteen recent reports, with the latter mulling a return to free agency and a possible move from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Lakers. Leonard, a Southern California native, has a year left on his Spurs contract but has been at odds with the organization and is widely believed to be trying to engineer his defection to the Lakers.
That team wasn’t specifically cited by Yahoo Sports on Thursday as Leonard’s preferred destination, but the website’s Jordan Schultz claimed that, per a source, Leonard “reached out” to James to say he “wants to play alongside” the four-time NBA MVP. “Leonard pitched James on his incredible defensive ability and how it would alleviate the pressure on James, the source said,” wrote Schultz.
Earlier in the day, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that talks between the Lakers and Spurs, which had grown cold, then heated up again, with Los Angeles feeling “urgency” to get a trade done by Sunday, the first official day of the NBA’s free agency period. James has until midnight Friday to decide whether to opt out of his contract with the Cavs, while another major factor in the free agency landscape, Paul George, reportedly decided on Thursday to opt out of his deal with the Thunder and hit the market.
According to The Post’s Tim Bontemps, the “prevailing opinion” in NBA circles is that George actually intends to return to Oklahoma City this summer on a new pact. That would be a blow to the Lakers, who reportedly had been anticipating that George, also a Southern California native, would join them this offseason. That potential move could compel the Lakers to get more aggressive in bidding for Leonard, all the better to land both him and James.
Sam Amick of USA Today reported hearing “rumblings” Thursday of a “Godfather Lakers offer” to the Spurs. That presumably would include Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft and the Lakers’ most promising young player, plus a combination of future first-round picks and other young talent, such as Lonzo Ball, the second overall pick last year, Kyle Kuzma and/or Josh Hart.
Ball may be off the Spurs’ wish list, according to Bontemps, who wrote that San Antonio was “believed to be uninterested” in the point guard. Wojnarowski reported that the Spurs “have long been most intrigued” with the numerous “trade assets” possessed by the Celtics, while the 76ers, with their own impressive war chest, have been suggested by many as potentially strong suitors this summer for Leonard, James or both.
Durant also has an opt-out clause he is expected to exercise, but he would shock the league if he did anything other than sign a lucrative contract to return to Golden State. Nevertheless, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said Thursday that James “reached out to Kevin Durant via text, from what I’m told, about coming to Los Angeles.”
According to Smith, Durant did not see much reason to leave the Warriors, with whom he has won two straight NBA titles and Finals MVP awards, but Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com subsequently threw cold water on the report. James “didn’t text” Durant, Vardon tweeted, and he also claimed that James’s possible move to the Lakers “would not be sealed (or doomed) by whether or not they trade for Kawhi.”
That could be great news for the Lakers if it turns out that James bolts for Los Angeles, they retain their assets and then land Leonard in free agency next summer. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said Thursday on “The Jump” that “not enough people are considering” that James may, indeed, “come alone” to the Lakers.
“If LeBron comes alone, it’s the Lakers plus LeBron, plus cap space, plus good young players — someone else is going to come, it’s just a matter of time,” said Lowe. Meanwhile, James has been spending some of his recent time in apparent consternation over making a jump — off a high, rocky perch into water, while vacationing with his family.
Read more from The Post: