As Paul George opts out, Lakers continue their pursuit of Kawhi Leonard
On Thursday afternoon, LeBron James jumped off a cliff.
That’s not some sort of cryptic metaphor. As the buildup to free agency intensified, James posted a video on Instagram of him and his son, Bronny, jumping off a cliff into a body of water.
With the deadline for James to decide whether to become an unrestricted free agent this summer fast approaching, the Cleveland Cavaliers star is on vacation with his family. Pre-free agency madness goes on without him.
Here’s a picture of Thursday’s activity, according to several sources who were not authorized to speak publicly: Paul George informed the Oklahoma City Thunder that he planned to opt out of the final year of his contract, as expected; the Lakers continued discussions with the San Antonio Spurs and other teams about possible trades that could help them secure Kawhi Leonard; and the Lakers cleared additional salary cap space by waiving Tyler Ennis.
Leonard spent the day in San Diego, receiving occasional updates on all that was happening.
George’s move is procedural and doesn’t guarantee that he will become a Laker. The Palmdale native has long wanted to play for the Lakers and even told his previous team, the Indiana Pacers, that he planned to sign with the Lakers this summer.
But the Thunder traded for George last summer in the hope they could change his mind and convince him to stay in Oklahoma City. George has enjoyed playing with Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who will be instrumental to the Thunder’s chances of keeping George. The Thunder also have the ability to pay George significantly more than any other team.
George will seriously consider the Lakers, who are hoping to make a pitch to him and others when free agency opens Saturday at 9:01 p.m. PDT, but also has mentioned possibly joining the Clippers or Boston Celtics.
“I’m excited because you have to understand that every guy is different so you can’t use the same pitch for everybody,” Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson said this week. “I understand that so you have to design your pitch to whoever you’re talking to at that time. I’m ready to go. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time.”
The Lakers’ work goes beyond free agency, however. Though the Spurs initially were unwilling to engage in serious talks with the Lakers about trading Leonard, that changed Wednesday when the two teams had what one source described as a “productive” conversation.
Those talks continued Thursday, with the Lakers trying to find ways to sweeten their offer. One player who has drawn interest from many teams is Brandon Ingram, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. Though the Lakers aren’t opposed to trading any of their players, a league source said Thursday afternoon that they had not yet made an official offer that included Ingram.
Other teams also have interest in trading for Leonard, though reports around the league indicated their pursuit wasn’t as aggressive as the Lakers’ quest. The Celtics, for example, were taking a cautious tact, refusing to discuss trading young star Jaylen Brown, according to the Boston Globe.
As developments have unfolded, the Spurs have kept Leonard generally updated on the situation, a source familiar with those conversations said. The two sides are interacting harmoniously as the Spurs look to see what deal works best for them, if any, in trading their star player.
Leonard, one source said, isn’t looking to orchestrate a super team and hasn’t contacted James about that. He simply wants to return home to Los Angeles.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
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