According to a report from The New York Times' Marc Stein, the Sixers, along with the Lakers, are "pressing the Spurs to trade Leonard this week, as both teams believe that acquiring Leonard would put them in the pole position to try to sign LeBron James away from the Cleveland Cavaliers when free agency starts."
James declined his player option Friday, essentially eliminating teams like the Rockets and Celtics from the sweepstakes and widdling down his options to the Cavaliers, Lakers and Sixers.
Stein's report adds to an ESPN report from Wednesday that said the Lakers are in a "race" to trade for Leonard because there is concern that Paul George signing there is no longer a sure thing and hesitation from James to be the first superstar to jolt to Los Angeles. The report added that James would like to make his July free agency decision quickly, hence why the Lakers and Sixers would be pressing the Spurs to make a deal soon as free agency looms Sunday at midnight.
With that in mind, if the Sixers can snag Leonard and George re-signs in OKC, then the Lakers would have zero stars to their name and a bunch of young players, while the Sixers would have a Finals MVP and two budding stars. That would be a tough scenario for LeBron to choose the Lakers over the Sixers. Of course, there's still the possibility of him re-signing in Cleveland for another season.
On the Leonard front, the Lakers are his preferred destination, per ESPN. And the superstar forward has reportedly reached out to James and expressed his interest in teaming up with The King, according to a report from Yahoo Sports' Jordan Schultz.
Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer reported Thursday that one of the trade packages for Leonard that the Sixers have discussed internally with ownership with includes Robert Covington, Dario Saric and the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Fischer reported that the Sixers have yet to make a formal trade offer for Leonard, while ESPN's report from Wednesday listed the Sixers as one of the teams to have made an offer.
If that was the exact deal the Sixers made for Leonard, they would lose around $10 million in cap space (if Leonard doesn't waive his 15 percent trade kicker) this offseason and put them around $19 million away from a 35 percent max contract slot for James, in which additional transactions would need to be made (starting with the $8 million-plus cap hits of Markelle Fultz and Jerryd Bayless). If the Sixers knew they were getting LeBron as they traded for Kawhi, they could even clear that space in the deal for Leonard, as Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer wrote earlier this week.