How the Lakers can land LeBron, Kawhi and Paul George


Could the L.A. Lakers build a new big three of LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard this summer?
That's the kind of star-studded scenario Lakers fans have dreamed about since last making the playoffs five years ago, and that the rest of the NBA has feared. While it's a long shot, such a partnership is possible if the players involved really want it.
Let's run through the possibilities -- and the challenges.
The Lakers signing George and James, both of whom can become unrestricted free agents if they decline 2018-19 player options, is easy enough. They can create sufficient cap room merely by waiving forward Luol Deng and stretching his contract, then renouncing the rights to their free agents.
Adding Leonard to the mix makes the math trickier -- even before we account for the fact that he's still under contract with the San Antonio Spurs, who would have to sign off on a trade. (More on that in a bit.)
Though Leonard is making substantially less than the current max salary at $20.1 million for 2018-19, combining his salary with max ones for LeBron (an estimated $35.4 million) and George (estimated $30.3 million because he's two years shy of the experience necessary for the largest max bracket for players with 10-plus years in the league) puts the Lakers over $85 million in salary without considering any other players or the remaining amount of Deng's stretched salary.
That tight math makes it all but imperative the Lakers send Deng to San Antonio in a Leonard trade before signing George and James. How might that work?
Timing is the biggest challenge to the Lakers pulling off a big three this summer. Any trade they make for a high-paid veteran like Leonard assuredly needs to be done before they sign free agents, because otherwise they'll already have waived Deng and be unable to include him as matching salary in a trade.