The Lakers are considered favourites to acquire impending free agents James and George during the offseason – and after news broke that Kawhi Leonard had requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, they were subsequently priced as his most likely destination by the bookies.
But bringing all three to California had not previously been considered a realistic possibility given the salary gymnastics that would be required to facilitate all three superstars.
Writing for ESPN today however, NBA expert Kevin Pelton outlined a way in which the 16-time NBA champions could engineer that exact situation.
Responding to a reader’s email querying whether the Lakers could convince the Charlotte Hornets to part with Kemba Walker, who becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer, in exchange for young point guard Lonzo Ball, Pelton warned of impending luxury tax troubles.
“Re-signing Walker and Leonard to max deals in the summer of 2019 in this hypothetical would push the Lakers’ salary into the stratosphere, as they’d be paying them, James and George alone more than the projected luxury-tax line for 2019-20,” he wrote.
“Nick’s email also presented an idea I haven’t considered enough, that the Lakers could deal for Leonard after using their cap space to sign two max free agents and stretching Luol Deng.
“He points out that a package of [Brandon] Ingram, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, Moritz Wagner [not eligible to be traded for 30 days after signing] and the Lakers’ non-guaranteed contracts [Thomas Bryant, Tyler Ennis and Ivica Zubac, all of whose contracts would be guaranteed by that point so as to count for matching purposes] would match Leonard’s salary without the inclusion of Deng, assuming Leonard waived his trade bonus.”
It comes after Lakers officials held an internal meeting warning staff to ensure they could not be accused of tampering in the lead-up to the free agency deadline early next month.
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reacted to the news claiming at least “five to seven” franchises were “chortling” at the idea the Lakers were not already tampering.