2019 NBA free agency has long been circled on the Los Angeles Lakers’ calendar. They are looking to take advantage of the flush cap space that they now have after agreeing to a buyout with veteran forward Luol Deng, to find a star to group with LeBron James and the young core of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. They have been linked with almost everyone available, from Kevin Durant to Jimmy Butler, to Klay Thompson, and of course, Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard was the talk of the 2018 summer because of his trade demand out of San Antonio, with Los Angeles being his top preference. Depending on the reports, the Lakers were heavily involved or not much at all. But when it comes down to it, they weren’t all that serious in rushing to get him, or they would have parted with their assets. Leonard has long since been viewed as the Lakers’ top target next summer because of his combination of age (27 years old), skillset on offense, and being the best perimeter defender in the game. He is viewed as the best two-way player in the NBA, while shooting the three-ball at an excellent rate, and developing as an all-around playmaker.
However, the Lakers’ eyes may reportedly be focusing on Klay Thompson. He has long been a favorite name because of his connection to Southern California and the franchise. His father, Mychal Thompson, used to play for the purple and gold and now calls their games for ESPN LA 710. Those ties may have some merit now. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne, while she was talking on “ESPNLA Mornings with Keyshawn, LZ, and Travis,” she alluded to the fact that the Lakers may actually be prioritizing the Golden State shooting guard:
“In terms of who they target next year, it’s whoever wants to come. My feeling about it, my sense from just talking to people in and around this [is that] one, it’s a little early, but I think they like Mychal’s boy. I think that would be the guy, in terms of skillset and how that would fit. Obviously Kawhi [Leonard], he’s a great player as well, but we’ll see if he stays in Toronto now. But I think they like Klay [Thompson].”
Both he and Leonard are excellent fits, but Thompson might be just a little more of a better one. He is the definition of a sharpshooter and would fit in seamlessly with the team, considering he is at his best when playing off-ball. Thompson has never been a guy who needed the ball in his hands, nor will the veteran ever put the ball on the floor. If he does, it will come via a post-up. And this is why Thompson was a perfect fit with Steph Curry, and now with Curry and Kevin Durant. He is unselfish and spreads the floor.
He is a threat just running around the court; thus he is given a lot of attention. And playing with LeBron James, along with the other ball-dominant players on the team, would require more of the same. Thompson is a career 42% shooter from three and shot a career-best 44% last season. And on catch-and-shoot opportunities, the 28-year-old shot 44.2% from three during the 2017-2018 season.
And just like Kawhi, Thompson is an excellent defender. His height and length at the shooting guard position are tough for many guards to overcome, and it also allows him to match up with small forwards. He can lock down three positions and guard the opposition’s best perimeter player.
Leonard may be the better overall player, but the Lakers should make a serious run at Thompson, should be become available. He’s shown to be capable of being the second-best player on a championship team, and it would be a homecoming of sorts for the Orange County kid. Not to mention, prying him away from the Warriors would directly weaken them while strengthening the Lakers. Kill two birds with one stone and make up more ground on the presumed 2018-2019 champions.
But obviously, getting him to leave is the hard part. He is in the perfect situation and appears very happy there, and the Warriors can offer more money. But maybe (most-likely) four rings would be enough and he would want a new challenge. If he does hit free agency, the Lakers must do what they can to get him.
Featured Image via Flickr/thewingnba