Although they were once considered long shots -- especially after acquiring Davis and having as little as $23.7 million remaining in cap space for the 2019 free agency period -- the Lakers have reportedly secured a meeting with the reigning NBA Finals MVP after reworking their trade with the Pelicans to include the Washington Wizards so the Purple and Gold could open enough space to offer a max contract this summer. CBS Sports' Bill Reiter reports that the Lakers are extremely confident about landing Leonard when free agency begins on Sunday.
In addition, Marc Stein of the New York Times is reporting that the Lakers are being viewed as the "true threat" to the Raptors in terms of signing Leonard.
Things change fast in #thisleague: With free agency a day and change away, it's the Lakers who have convinced Las Vegas -- and an increasing number of league insiders -- that they are LA's true threat to limiting Kawhi Leonard's Raptors career to a single season. Not the Clippers— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 29, 2019
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Leonard and his representation intend to grant meetings to the Lakers and the Clippers, in addition to meeting with the Raptors, once free agency opens on June 30.
Interestingly enough, it was initially reported by Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times that former Lakers president of basketball operations, Magic Johnson, would join Jeanie Buss in pitching Kawhi on joining forces with LeBron and Davis. However, this report is being squashed by Magic himself as he says he's not permitted by NBA rules to participate in official meetings with free agents.
Johnson says “A friend of mine called and says Kawhi wants to meet with you,” Johnson told ESPN. “I said no problem. I’m available if that’s what this man wants.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) June 28, 2019
“But I got a great life. I’m not trying to mess with anybody’s job.”
Sam Amick of The Athletic also reports that LeBron and Davis are planning on being part of the Lakers' recruiting pitch to Kawhi.
In addition to those three meetings, Haynes' initial reporting included that the New York Knicks are working to secure a meeting of their own with the All-Star forward but, at this time, no meeting has been scheduled yet.
Leonard will be a free agent this summer after officially opting out of his deal with the Toronto Raptors. Considering he is coming off the biggest season of his career after leading the Raptors to an NBA championship and winning Finals MVP in his first season with the franchise, Leonard won't have any shortage of suitors. However, it was largely expected that there would be two teams as the front-runners for his services -- none other than the Raptors and hometown Los Angeles Clippers.
It had been reported over the weekend by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that the Raptors -- not the Clippers --.
"The appeal of returning home to Southern California is enticing to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, but with the trust the Raptors built while Leonard led the franchise to its first NBA title by upsetting the Golden State Warriors, rival executives view his current team as the favorite to land him when the free-agent negotiating period begins June 30, sources said."
Considering the Lakers have only three players under contract after reworking this trade (James, Davis and Kyle Kuzma) for the 2019-20 season, Rob Pelinka will have to get creative in attempting to fill out this roster whether Los Angeles adds Leonard or another max contract level free agent to the fold in the coming weeks.