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Kawhi Leonard Trade Could Be Key In Lakers Attracting LeBron James

LeBron James hugs Kawhi Leonard after a game.

LeBron James Lakers update: James and Kawhi Leonard are two of the five or 10 best players in the NBA, and both could very well changing franchises this off-season. The Los Angeles Lakers are among the favorites to land each, and as a result, their fates could wind up being intrinsically linked.

James is a free agent, and has been tabbed as a potential future Laker for at least a year. The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar has a home in the Los Angeles area, as well as numerous business interests in Hollywood.

However, one has to believe that his main goal is to compete for NBA titles. As currently constituted, the Lakers are nowhere near the Golden State Warriors, with or without James.

Luke Walton's team has a pair of interesting young players coming off of solid rookie years in Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, second year forward Brandon Ingram, and 23-year old power forward Julius Randle, who is coming off his strongest NBA season.

There are nice pieces there, but it seems quite unlikely that LeBron is interested in joining up with the kids and waiting out the Warriors dynasty.

That is where Leonard's situation could come into play.

With a trade for Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James's Lakers interest could skyrocket.

Leonard reportedly met with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich recently to officially state that he wants a trade. The Lakers have been attached as a possibility for a while, as the team has the assets to make a big move, and Leonard is a Southern California native.

The Lakers also have an edge because of Leonard's impending 2019 free agency. Not every team is going to get involved if they think he could leave after one season.

USA Today's Sam Amick believes that acquiring Leonard would "significantly" increase the team's chances to get LeBron:

If Leonard found his way to Laker Land, where he would likely make it clear that he’d re-sign as a free agent in the summer of 2019, it is widely believed that it would significantly increase the Lakers' chances of landing LeBron James in free agency this summer. And Leonard, quite clearly, had decided it was time to move on after this season that was so full of mystery and tumult.

Acquiring Leonard is not without risk. He is coming off of a strange season in which he only played a handful of games due to a somewhat mysterious injury situation. We've also seen a fairly recent example of a team jumping the gun on a big acquisition back-firing.

Ahead of the 2011 trade deadline, the New York Knicks made a big move to trade for Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. Like Leonard and the Lakers, Anthony had long been connected to the Knicks, and like Leonard, he was set to hit free agency.

Instead of waiting for him to do so, the Knicks shipped out useful players like Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, and Timofey Mozgov. The Knicks wound up 42-40 that season, and were swept in the first round of the NBA Playoffs by the Boston Celtics. Had they waited a year to add Anthony in free agency, the Knicks may have been more competitive over the next few years.

The Lakers may not have the same luxury, with multiple other competitors in the market for LeBron. If it means shigting the scales towards the King coming to L.A., it is hard to argue that it wouldn't be worth it. Whether that duo is good enough to challenge the Big Four in the Bay Area is another question.

[USA Today]