Before LeBron James signed a four-year, $153 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, there were concerns about his willingness to join without another All-Star player committing first.
As Paul George immediately re-signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder once free agency began, Kawhi Leonard was still a member of the San Antonio Spurs despite his trade request.
With the Spurs reportedly seeking the Lakers’ entire young core outside of Lonzo Ball, they had a major decision to make in hopes of securing James.
Fortunately, the 33-year old signed on the first day of free agency, which signaled his patience with the team’s front office. While James could have easily demanded the Lakers trade for Leonard, he explained his thought process with Rachel Nichols of ESPN:
“Because I love the young guys that they have, and I’m not trying to force my hand in no way, shape or form. I believe Rob [Pelinka] and Magic [Johnson] and Jeanie [Buss] have done an unbelievable job of reshaping what the organization should be, keeping Dr. Buss’ dreams and what he was all about, to keep that going. I feel like they know what’s best for the team and I wanted to be a piece to continue that motion of being back to a championship franchise where they should be.”
Prior to free agency, the focus was on building a championship contender in the short- and long-term. Although James and Leonard are two of the top three players in the league, gutting the roster did not make sense for an upcoming free agent.
Similar to George and the Thunder, the Toronto Raptors will have the entire 2018-19 NBA season to persuade Leonard to re-sign. While there are risks associated with waiting until free agency, the Lakers still like their chances of signing the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
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