The Los Angeles Lakers made the smart decision to hold off on signing any free agents until they knew the decision of Kawhi Leonard as they were firmly in Leonard’s top three, but nobody ever knew where they stood on his list.
In the end, Leonard chose the Los Angeles Clippers, bringing Paul George with him via a trade that the former had been trying to orchestrate since the beginning of free agency.
It was a move that made many realize that Leonard’s goal was always to get to the Clippers and that the Lakers were always simply a back-up option if the George trade fell through.
Because of this and the fact that the Lakers had to settle with regards to their back-up plan free agents, they reportedly felt like they ‘got played’ in Leonard’s process, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN as transcribed by Dan Feldman of NBC Sports:
“I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing. I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.”
Odds are Leonard did not intentionally mess with the Lakers in order to ruin their chances at getting certain free agents. This move would be oddly sleazy from a player who holds no grudges against the Lakers and towards a team that never wronged him in any way.
And from the Lakers perspective, waiting for Leonard always had to be the decision. If they managed to get him because the Clippers couldn’t swing a historic trade, they instantly become championship favorites for years to come. And when they didn’t, they still managed to surround Anthony Davis and LeBron James with solid talent — and talent that arguably wouldn’t have been much better if they removed themselves from the chase.
Getting Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, and some returners on the bargain bin deals they signed wouldn’t have been possible on July 1. It’s even possible that by waiting and failing to land Leonard, they saved themselves from overpaying for a lot of free agents that received huge deals in the first couple days.
The Lakers can feel however they want to feel about the Leonard situation but at the end of the day, they’re still one of the best — if not the best — team in the NBA. And that’s something they haven’t been able to say in nearly a decade.