The race for Kawhi Leonard is on, and it might turn into a huge win for the Spurs

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  • There is mounting pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to trade for the San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, according to an ESPN report.
  • The Lakers believe that landing Leonard could help them attract free agents like LeBron James and Paul George this offseason, the report says.
  • The Spurs could find themselves driving up the price for Leonard, as teams grow desperate to trade for him as a means to land James or George.

As the gulf between the San Antonio Spurs and Kawhi Leonard grows, the race to land the All-Star forward is pushing onward.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Ramona Shelburne, and Brian Windhorst, there is mounting pressure for the Los Angeles Lakers to trade for Leonard before free agency starts on July 1.

Landing Leonard would be a huge first step in the Lakers’ attempting to sign big free agents like LeBron James and Paul George, creating a core of star players to bring the team back to relevance in the NBA. It’s widely believed that James is hesitant to be the first star player to sign with the Lakers, while recent reports indicate George might re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

ESPN reports that the Lakers are weighing how much to give up for Leonard, who is said to want to be traded to the Lakers and eventually sign with them when he becomes a free agent in 2019.

For the Lakers, it would be a dicey position, offering some of their young core players and future draft picks, knowing it would rid them of their depth if they did land a superteam or harm their future if they landed Leonard but not George or James.

For the Spurs, however, it might be a massive win.

Buried at the end of ESPN’s report is a line that says Leonard is “adamant” that he does not want to set foot in the Spurs locker room again. When a superstar one year away from free agency says he wants out, it usually puts that team up against the wall in making a deal.

But if a team like the Lakers is desperate to land Leonard, it could help the Spurs. If other teams want Leonard, then they too have to race the Lakers for him. That could drive up the price for Leonard, an unusual scenario for a player so close to free agency (and coming off an injury that cost him 73 games last season).

One agent recently suggested to Business Insider that the Spurs should not trade Leonard, barring a mega-offer. The agent reasoned that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wants only to compete for championships, and keeping Leonard helps him accomplish that, regardless of Leonard’s wishes. At the end of the 2018-19 season, the two sides could say goodbye and move on.

That would be a major risk in asset management, as it would mean losing an MVP candidate for nothing, but if the Spurs can project that position to the rest of the league, it could also drive up the price for Leonard.

ESPN reports that the Spurs have not been in a rush to trade Leonard but are open to dealing him to any team for the right price – contrary to a report that said they might trade him only to an Eastern Conference team.

The Spurs are on the clock too. Free agency is days away, and reports suggest James wants to make his free-agency decision quickly. That could mean the Lakers may be desperate for only a little while longer. If the Spurs wait too long, James and George can make their decisions, and the Lakers could move on from Leonard, knowing they may sign him next summer. For other teams trying to land Leonard, it means less time to win him over.

The race for Leonard is on, and if the Spurs play their hand wisely, an ugly situation could end up with them bringing in a haul of assets to jump-start a rebuild.

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