The Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard to a three-year, $103 million deal after an extremely intense 2019 NBA free agency.
While details never leaked until after the fact, it was well-known that the Clippers, Toronto Raptors, and Los Angeles Lakers were all teams Leonard seriously considered.
Leonard ended up choosing the Clippers because they were able to complete a mega-deal for Paul George right at the buzzer in addition to the homecoming aspect of it. It was felt by many that Leonard always preferred the Clippers, but had no interest in going there alone.
Now, as more details begin to pour out about this free agency period, one of the initial theories was confirmed and that’s that Leonard always preferred the Clippers over the Lakers since he didn’t want to form a super team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, according to Sam Amick of The Athletic:
There was some skepticism within the Clippers’ group as well that Leonard was actually considering the Lakers, albeit not from their top decision makers. The driving force in that line of thinking, it seems, was the belief that Leonard wanted to build another title contender as the foundational piece rather than teaming up with LeBron and becoming the Lakers’ third new star on the scene.
However, the most interesting wrinkle in this part of the story is that an anonymous Lakers player reportedly had been told that Leonard was going to sign, making the front office more willing to stay in the hunt rather than give up and sign role players from the get-go:
But a source with knowledge of the Lakers’ thinking said they maintained the pursuit, in part, because one of their players had been told that Leonard truly wanted to come. There was a fear that they would lose out on other free agents while playing the waiting game with Leonard, but this calculated risk was deemed to be worth it, even if the structure of their meeting with Leonard wasn’t what they’d hoped for.
This is an extremely interesting detail to come out now as there will likely be a ton more questions than answers. For example, which player was told this and why were they so confident, why did the Lakers believe him, and what could have happened had this player not been told this.
The questions are endless and it’s likely best to avoid them altogether. But considering how drastically the 2019 NBA offseason changed the landscape, small details like this have a major ripple effect. Luckily, the Lakers and Clippers both look to be championship contenders, so fans would be wise to sit back and enjoy some great basketball instead.