A week after stalled conversations, the Lakers and San Antonio re-engaged in discussions about disgruntled Spurs star Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard wants out of San Antonio and has a preference to come to Los Angeles. He prefers the Lakers over the Clippers. But where the Spurs were unwilling to engage in conversation with the Lakers last week, a source not authorized to speak publicly termed Wednesday’s conversation as “productive.”
The Lakers are seeking to reshape their roster by adding star players this summer and next summer, and turning themselves into a championship contender. To do so, they aren’t considering any player untouchable in trades, and have conveyed that to teams around the league. As a caveat, the Lakers want to be sure that if they are parting with their young players, they are doing so with an eye to their future.
“I don’t think that leveraging success of the future for a short now is the right thing to do,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said last week. “I think sustainable success is really our goal.”
To that end, the Lakers made a procedural move Wednesday, extending a qualifying offer to Julius Randle, which ensures that he will be a restricted free agent when the market opens Saturday at 9:01 p.m. PDT.
The $5.6-million qualifying offer means they retain the rights to the power forward as he heads into free agency.
If Randle signs an offer sheet with another team, which he can do starting July 6, the Lakers will have 48 hours to match the offer. Randle’s agent can begin negotiations as soon as the market opens.
Randle now will count for slightly less than $12.5 million against the Lakers’ salary cap because of what is called a cap hold, which is put on teams’ salary caps while they retain the rights to restricted free agents.
The Lakers can free themselves of that cap hold by withdrawing their qualifying offer and renouncing their rights to Randle, as the Detroit Pistons did last season with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Lakers would take that measure only if they need the cap space because top free agents have agreed to sign with them.
The most financially simple way for the Lakers to add two free agents under maximum deals would be for them to renounce their rights to Randle and waive and stretch payments to forward Luol Deng, who played 13 minutes last season, all in the Lakers’ season opener. Deng is owed $18 million in each of the next two seasons and stretching his contract would spread the salary cap hit out over five years, saving the Lakers nearly $12 million on next season’s salary cap.
If they are able to trade for Leonard, that might involve trading away Deng’s contract, and removing that salary cap hit from their books outright. That move would also open the door to sign two free agents to maximum deals in addition to Leonard. It could clear the way for the Lakers to add Leonard, LeBron James and Paul George for next season.
Randle, who will be 24 in November, turned himself into an integral part of the Lakers’ roster last season. He began coming off the bench while Larry Nance Jr. started at power forward. After he worked past his initial disappointment, Randle began to dominate as the Lakers’ backup center when they moved to small lineups.
Randle returned to the Lakers’ starting lineup Dec. 29. In a league that values smaller centers who can guard different positions, Randle showed his worth. He was the only Laker to play in all 82 games last season. As a starter, Randle averaged 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
Coach Luke Walton has been vocal in his desire for Randle to return to the Lakers.
Pelinka said in May that he had no set number in mind as the ceiling for what he will pay Randle. He added that there had been contact with Randle’s camp, “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”
Randle’s agent, Aaron Mintz, responded to Pelinka’s comments with skepticism.
“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Mintz said. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”
Mintz also represents George, the Oklahoma City star whose decision could affect Randle. If the Lakers are able to acquire George and any other stars in free agency, they might choose to part with Randle.
Summer League roster is announced
Kyle Kuzma and Lonzo Ball are not on the Lakers’ Summer League roster as expected, but three players will make repeat appearances: Josh Hart, Alex Caruso and Thomas Bryant. Hart is not expected to play much.
The Lakers summer roster includes their draft picks, Svi Mykhailiuk and Moe Wagner. They also selected Isaac Bonga with the 39th pick, through the Philadelphia 76ers, but that trade can’t become official until after the league’s free-agency moratorium lifts July 6. Bonga will then be able to join the team.
Two players from the South Bay Lakers will be on the Lakers’ summer roster — Stephaun Branch and Demarcus Holland. The Lakers have also added North Carolina’s Joel Berry II, Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll, Middle Tennessee’s Nick King, Kansas’ Malik Newman, San Diego State’s Malik Pope and Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, formerly with the Westchester Knicks, will also be on the team.