For now, there is no Kawhi Leonard era in the Los Angeles Lakers present. A month ago, the Lakers were willing to trade Brandon Ingram and draft picks for Leonard. Then, LeBron James rocked their world. And then, the Spurs were greedy. They asked for Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and draft picks. They wanted the Lakers to gut a team for a player no one even knows is healthy. I’m sure the Lakers considered it; they were desperate for a star. But once LeBron landed in their atmosphere and he was cool with the kids, even wanting to play with them to see what they could become- the biggest risk James has ever taken in his career- the Lakers shut the Kwahi door gently.
There is still 2019 when Leonard becomes a free agent. With LeBron in tow, It is not just about Kawhi though. There is Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker. They don’t have to rush. LeBron is not putting a gun to their head. He is being chill about this year. Everyone is in see what happens mode.
One of the things that has happened is that Josh Hart has balled in Summer League. If the Lakers win Summer League, Josh Hart will be the MVP, like Kyle Kuzma was the MVP last year. Encouraging to Magic is Hart’s body which he has worked on, his three point ball, his drives and finishes at the rim with contact, and his confidence. Hart is a NCAA champion, plays defense, and will compete with Ingram and Kuzma for a starting job.
Last season, Kyle Kuzma’s rookie year saw him play 77 games. He shot 36% from three, 16.1 points, 6.3 rebounds. Brandon Ingram in his second year shot 39% from three, 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds. He improved his rookie scoring by +6.7 points.
Magic and LeBron want to see what the kids are going to do with LeBron, who they can become. At the very least, it makes no sense, absent pressure from the best player in the game, to not continue earning on their investment.
The Lakers have drafted and developed well. Stay with the process until they can flip a talent for someone greater. But why go that route if they don’t have to?
Kawhi isn’t the only free agent out there in 2019. Having LeBron committed to the marriage takes a lot of pressure off of Magic as the salesperson. Many have the Lakers in the 53 win territory, a playoff team but not getting to the conference final. It’s a wait and see how much the kids grow under the LeBron leadership.
Set LeBron’s leadership aside for a second. Just his habits and preparation are going to impact the Laker’s kids. Victor Oladipo has credited one year with Russell Westbrook as his jumpstart into All-Star, Most Improved and dynamic scorer. MVP Westbrook isn’t the player that James is.
The Lakers, and the rest of the league, are going to pay attention to who thrives under LeBron and who doesn’t. Those in the who doesn’t category- it may be Lonzo- will find themselves out at the trade deadline.
As for the Spurs. They have mangled this Kawhi trade in the worst way possible. The only way for them to win is for Kawhi to go back on his word and say my bad, changed my mind. $220 million, yep. I’m good. Anything else is a loss. The Spurs could have had Brandon Ingram but were greedy. DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range one dimensional game or Dario Saric doesn’t give the Spurs young and we can develop into a multi-dimensional star. I like Saric. He’s a big on the Sixers that can drain threes but he doesn’t do enough to fill the Leonard hole like Ingram could have.
Ingram and Leonard play the same position. Ingram rebounds, passes, defends. He’s not Kawhi but he’s a talent.
All of this is possible because LeBron James decided to take a risk. He has never been in this kind of NBA place before, surrounded by the very young and the very talented, players he can mold. There is a reason for the Lakers excitement in addition to adding a legendary player. The Cavaliers top two scoring players after LeBron were Kevin Love and Isiah Thomas (in his short stint), 32.3 points. Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma averaged 32.2 points.
So yeah, roll the dice. Be brave.