Kawhi Leonard Trade: What Do the Lakers Have to Do to Land Spurs Star?

Kawhi Leonard prior to Game One of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriorsc at ORACLE Arena on May 14, 2017. Leonard wants to be traded to the Lakers. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

LeBron James did not keep anyone waiting this time, as he announced his future on the first day of free agency.

The three-time NBA champion opted out of the final year of his deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 29, before agreeing to a four-year, $154 million max contract on Sunday.

The four-time MVP's decision has the potential to change the NBA landscape for the foreseeable future, particularly as the Lakers are expected to continue making moves this summer. The 16-time NBA champions arrived into the free agency knowing they could clear out salary space for two max-level contracts, meaning there is room for another star to join LeBron in California.

With Paul George opting to sign a four-year deal extension with Oklahoma, Kawhi Leonard is the main candidate to be the Lakers' second major coup of the summer. The relationship between the Spurs and the 2014 NBA Finals MVP has soured beyond repair and, after months of speculation, the 27-year-old has indicated he wants out of San Antonio.

On Sunday night, shortly after news of LeBron's deal with the Lakers broke, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed Leonard wanted to join the three-time NBA champion in his hometown.

Sources: As trade talks have unfolded, Kawhi Leonard’s focus is unchanged: He wants to be a Laker. https://t.co/0wZGf5MrNt

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 2, 2018

While Leonard's desire to leave Texas does not come as a surprise, it asks difficult questions of both franchises. Do the Spurs agree to part ways with him and what will the Lakers be prepared to include in a trade package?

The answer to the former might be a reluctant yes. The Spurs have repeatedly stated they do not want to trade the All Star forward to a Western Conference team, but last week league sources quoted by ESPN suggested a huge offer from the Lakers could convince San Antonio to allow Leonard to leave.

What will L.A. offer?

In May, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor quoted multiple NBA executives as saying San Antonio would not settle for anything less than a "grand-slam" offer for Leonard.

Almost certainly, the Spurs will demand a much bigger return than the Cleveland Cavaliers received last summer, when they traded Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Ante Zizic, Jae Crowder and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets' 2018 first-round draft pick.

As far as the answer to the latter question goes, the situation is slightly more complicated. Pairing Leonard with LeBron could force the Lakers to break up part of their young core.

ESPN's report suggested the Spurs are likely to command a trade package including first round draft picks and some of L.A.'s young players—potentially one or more between Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart.

That would be a hefty price to pay, particularly as the Lakers would have to try and fill out their rosters around LeBron and Leonard. Conversely, being able to field the two next season would almost immediately turn the Lakers from a 35-win team into a force to be reckoned with.

A repeat of Paul George's scenario?

Alternatively, the Lakers could also opt to keep their powder dry for another 12 months, as Leonard will become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Last week, the Lakers' director of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, insisted the franchise was working on a two-year plan and would not be rushed into making major decisions this summer.

While waiting for Leonard to become a free agent next summer would allow the Lakers to hold onto their young players, it would leave the door open to a repeat of the scenario L.A. endured with George.

Last year, the California native had told the Indiana Pacers it intended to sign for the Lakers this summer before being traded to Oklahoma. Last week George opted out of the final year of his deal with the Thunder on Saturday, fueling speculation he would in fact move to L.A. this summer, but on Saturday he announced he had signed a new four-year deal with Oklahoma.

However, the scenario of Leonard becoming a one-year rental might also not appeal to the Spurs, who would run the risk of losing him for a less appealing package than the one the Lakers might be prepared to be offer.