LeBron James already recruiting Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Josh Schrock | NBC SPORTS 

Say what you will about LeBron James, but he’s no fool.

The three-time NBA champion knows that despite the promise his Los Angeles Lakers showed early on this season, they have a long way to go to catch the two-time defending NBA champion Warriors.

So, with a historic free-agent class set to hit the market July 1, James reportedly has already started putting in work with some of the biggest stars who will be available this offseason, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported Thursday.

“Have you seen the Lakers’ roster at the moment?” Windhorst said on “Pardon The Interruption.” “I don’t think LeBron is in position to be too picky. From what I understand, he has already begun the recruiting process. I’ve heard he has had contact with Kawhi Leonard. I’ve heard he’s had contact with Jimmy Butler. There’s no tampering enforcement with players … LeBron is Tamperer-in-Chief of the Lakers right now.”

Spicy.

Leonard and Butler are just two of the big names set to hit the market this summer. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both are expected to opt out of their contract and become free agents, while Klay Thompson, Tobias Harris and Kemba Walkers also will be available. 

The Lakers have been such a mess lately, it seems like their best options are to hope Irving wants a reunion with James or that Butler didn’t enjoy playing with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons during his brief stint with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Most expect Leonard to leave Toronto for Los Angeles, just not for the Lakers. The Clippers have long been seen as the front-runners to sign the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, but it’s hard to count out the lure of playing with James and trying to bring an NBA title back to the Lakers’ franchise.

Durant doesn’t appear to be an option for the Lakers and most believe Thompson will re-sign with the Warriors.

Harris or Walker could be a “break glass in case of emergency” option for the Purple and Gold.

If the Lakers are unable to land a marquee free agent, they will once again have to turn to the trade market as a way to try and level the playing field with Golden State.

But if the Lakers can’t LeBron the help he needs, it could be another long year in Tinseltown.

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