While the Los Angeles Lakers were preparing to officially pursue Paul George and LeBron James in free agency, they also were involved in a potential scenario to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs.
Coming off a season in which he only appeared in nine games and one that included a disconnect developing with teammates and head coach Gregg Popovich, Leonard requested a trade in the offseason.
It was believed his preferred destination was the Lakers, while a trade to the Clippers was also an option because it would allow for Leonard to return to Southern California.
Although there were reported trade talks between the Lakers and Spurs, the former NBA Finals MVP was dealt to the Toronto Raptors after several weeks of speculation.
Eligible to be part of the 2019 NBA free agency class, Leonard remains focused on possibly signing with the Clippers or Lakers, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
Leonard is primarily interested in signing with the Lakers or Clippers in July, league sources tell ESPN.
Even with the 27-year-old tipping his hand, Raptors president Masai Ujiri was comfortable in taking the risk on trading for Leonard. After all, the same strategy worked out well for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they re-signed Paul George to a four-year contract this summer.
It can be presumed that LeBron James signing with the Lakers was also a factor. With James’ reign in the Eastern Conference now a thing of the past, the Raptors conceivably could advance to the NBA Finals, which would be a feather in their cap when it comes to convincing Leonard to re-sign.
Of course, if the situation doesn’t pan out, Toronto could once and for all enter into a rebuild and trade Leonard at the deadline, during which time the Lakers may become involved.
However, they reportedly decided against meeting the Spurs’ exorbitant asking price because of a confidence in their ability to sign Leonard outright in free agency.