A Leonard trade request could provide Bulls some opportunity
Just when it seemed LeBron James would dominate the NBA's offseason, another big name tossed his sneakers into the mix.
According to multiple reports, forward Kawhi Leonard plans to ask for a trade from San Antonio. Leonard played in just nine games last season due to a persistent and puzzling quad injury.
But Leonard is also a two-time first-team All-NBA selection, a two-time defensive player of the year and the 2014 Finals MVP. Considering he'll turn 27 in a couple weeks, Leonard might be a more desirable acquisition than James.
But Leonard is not a free agent, like James almost certainly will be on July 1. Any move to a new team must be facilitated by the Spurs. Leonard is under contract for $20.1 million next season and can opt out of the final year of his deal in 2019.
San Antonio has a long history of being a player-friendly franchise, so it's possible the Spurs will sit tight and hope this relationship can be saved. But they'll probably try to get a good return in a trade, before Leonard can walk away next year.
Early reports have Los Angeles as Leonard's preferred destination. He's from nearby Riverside and was a high school teammate of former Bull Tony Snell.
Naturally, chatter quickly focused on the Lakers forming a Southern California superteam with Leonard, James and free agent Paul George. If the Lakers could land that trio, they'd happily move Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or whoever is necessary to bring Leonard from the Spurs.
The Lakers' scenario is feasible if they can find a team to take Luol Deng's contract, which is worth $36.8 million over the next two seasons.
Perhaps the Spurs don't relish the idea of helping form a second West Coast superteam, so they'll try to push Leonard toward the Eastern Conference.
If that's the case, Boston can make a solid offer, using Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving as the centerpiece. Philadelphia could suggest a swap of guys who sat most of last season and offer No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz plus the tenth pick this year. Cleveland could make the entire supporting cast available, hoping to convince James to stay.
The Bulls aren't getting many mentions as a potential destination, but they should give it a try. Leonard is two years younger than Jimmy Butler and the last time we saw him on the court, was clearly a rung above Butler on the NBA's small forward ladder. Landing a first-team all-NBA player is what the Bulls should be doing with the rebuild.
Would the No. 7 pick in the draft, one of the Bulls' three main guys, plus some second-tier pieces be enough to catch the Spurs' interest? Leonard would be a risk for any team since he was injured last season and could walk as a free agent in 2019. But playing in Chicago isn't a terrible option, either, so maybe he'd stick around.
Of course, the other possibility here is the Bulls act as a facilitator. If the Lakers want to execute a grand plan, the Bulls could offer to take Ingram or Kuzma off their hands. One possible strategy is the Bulls give Omer Asik to the Lakers and take back their old friend Deng.
The Lakers could waive Asik and use the stretch provision on the final year of his contract to create cap space. Since Deng will be tough to unload, this could become a viable option if the Lakers can give the Bulls enough sweetener. And it would take a huge incentive, since Deng for Asik would add about $25 million to the Bulls' payroll.
The Bulls could help the Lakers create cap space to sign James and George, but they'd be looking to gain those same players the Lakers would use as Leonard trade bait. The NBA hot stove will be complicated, but the Bulls will have opportunities to get involved.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.