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Why Kawhi Leonard's trade request could be bad news for the Cleveland Cavaliers

When Kawhi Leonard reportedly requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, it only made the Cleveland Cavaliers' attempt to re-sign LeBron James more difficult.

CLEVELAND -- You don't need to tell the Cleveland Cavaliers how a single trade demand can shift the landscape of the NBA. After all, it was less than a year ago Kyrie Irving's request to be sent elsewhere sent a shockwave through the league.

After ultimately sending Irving to the Boston Celtics, the Cavs saw the gap between themselves and the Golden State Warriors widen, as they simultaneously strengthened their biggest challenger in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland, meanwhile, eventually traded away two of the principle pieces it received from the Celtics at the NBA trade deadline, essentially conceding the mistakes it made in the Irving deal.

Eleven months later, another star is looking to leave town, as Kawhi Leonard has requested a trade from the San Antonio Spurs, according to multiple reports. And although the Cavs aren't directly involved the trade discussions -- at least not yet -- this time around, Leonard's destination could very much impact Cleveland's pursuit of re-signing LeBron James.

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

While he's otherwise remained mum on his upcoming free agency thus far, James has made it clear he's still in "championship mode."

"I still have so much to give to the game," he said following the Cavs' season ending loss to the Warriors in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. "When you have a goal and you're able to accomplish that goal, it actually -- for me personally, it made me even more hungry to continue to try to win championships, and I still want to be in championship mode. I think I've shown this year why I will still continue to be in championship mode."

And although wherever James winds up, he'll still be chasing the Warriors, Leonard is one of the few talents the 4-time MVP could team up with to instantly present a formidable foe to the 2-time defending NBA champs. Thus, once it was reported Leonard's preferred destination is the Los Angeles Lakers, it didn't take long for the internet to run amok with photoshops of a potential NBA super team in purple in gold.

Obviously, landing Leonard would make the Lakers a more attractive destination for James, given his desire to continue to compete for championships. And with the Lakers possessing the cap space to sign two stars -- and perhaps the trade pieces to acquire another -- this offseason, it may be a situation too perfect for James to pass up.

But even should the Spurs refuse to trade Leonard to a fellow Western Conference team, as some have reported they'll do, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP's trade request still doesn't bode well for the Cavs. With the Celtics considered by many to be the team most capable of putting together a compelling package for Leonard, James could be all but forced to take his talents elsewhere should Cleveland's biggest Eastern Conference rival make such a dramatic improvement.

Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Of course, plenty can change between now and whenever James makes his decision and perhaps the Cavs themselves will find themselves in the Leonard sweepstakes.

But with last week's trade request, the NBA's annual offseason game of dominos is officially underway. And it will likely play a prominent role in which way the biggest one of them all falls.

For all the latest on James' free agency, follow our LeBron James 2018 free agency rumor tracker.

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