Two days before the 2017-18 NBA trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers were reportedly ‘recalibrating’ for 2019 free agency which features Kawhi Leonard.
However, they ended up taking a major step in creating the necessary cap space to sign two max-contract players this summer by trading for Isaiah Thomas’ and Channing Frye’s expiring contracts along with the No. 25 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Leonard’s uncertain future with the San Antonio Spurs, one Western Conference executive believes there was a major reason behind the initial report about the Lakers shifting their focus to next year, according to Ken Berger of Bleacher Report:
It’s commonly heard on the front office grapevine that Leonard is eyeing the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. One of the Western Conference executives noted it’s no accident that the Lakers reportedly have shifted their free-agent plans to focus on the ’19 class (which Leonard may headline), according to Shelburne and ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski, as opposed to a quick fix this summer.
“That’s why [the Lakers] are spinning it into ‘wait till next year,'” the executive said. “They know they can get Kawhi.”
After years of rebuilding through the draft, Los Angeles is now considered a legitimate destination for upcoming free agents. While it is no secret the Lakers want to sign LeBron James and Paul George this year, they have created options for themselves in the short- and long-term.
If James and/or George ultimately do not sign with the Lakers, they can re-sign Julius Randle and again add some quality players on one-year contracts to maintain cap space flexibility. Along with Leonard, Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler are set to become unrestricted 2019 free agents.