After the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Anthony Davis and re-established their max-contract slot, there was momentum to sign Kawhi Leonard heading into free agency.
As the Lakers patiently waited for Leonard’s decision, he ultimately signed a four-year, $142 million deal with the Los Angeles Clippers over them and the Toronto Raptors.
And in perhaps the most shocking move of the offseason, the Clippers traded for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder to pair him with Leonard immediately after.
The Clippers reportedly feared the Lakers were going to create a Big 3, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
As fears mounted that the Los Angeles Lakers had pushed to the cusp of creating an unprecedented Big Three, the LA Clippers made a blockbuster trade for Oklahoma City’s Paul George — and cleared the path for free agent Kawhi Leonard to sign a four-year, $141 million contract with the Clippers, league sources told ESPN.
As a result, the Clippers traded numerous assets to the Thunder for George as they believed Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers, according to Wojnarowski:
The Clippers became the last line of defense for the balance of power in the NBA — never mind the franchise’s own future. The Clippers had come to believe that, without a deal for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers and create a Staples Center partnership with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, sources said.
As the Lakers have moved on, Leonard’s camp reportedly asked them to delay the Davis trade with the New Orleans Pelicans just two hours before he made his decision.
While it is unclear why Leonard’s camp made that type of request, it appears the George trade changed his mind.
Although the Lakers did miss out on steals to begin free agency, they had to risk waiting for one of the three best players. Had Leonard signed with the Lakers, they would have been favored for at least the next 2-3 seasons.
Since Leonard’s decision, the Lakers have split up their $32 million in cap space now and signed Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, and Quinn Cook.
Since the Lakers still have some roster spots remaining, DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Morris are available.