As the Los Angeles Lakers were preparing to chase two max-level players in free agency, they also were connected to the saga between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. With their relationship seemingly beyond repair, Leonard sought a trade from the Spurs.
It was widely reported his preference was to be sent to the Los Angeles Lakers, with the Clippers also a top option. San Antonio reportedly sought a significant haul from the Lakers in exchange for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP.
Convinced they’d have an opportunity to sign Leonard outright in 2019 free agency, the Lakers were hesitant to break up their young core to complete a trade. They proceeded to sign LeBron James, which fueled speculation a Leonard deal would eventually come to fruition.
But the Lakers stuck to their stance, perhaps emboldened by James not pushing for a trade because he was confident in the team’s young players, and Leonard was ultimately traded to the Toronto Raptors.
Many viewed the deal as a one-year rental for Toronto, though president Masai Ujiri has made it clear the Raptors are confident they will convince the 27-year-old to re-sign.
During a segment on “Mason and Ireland,” ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne discussed the complexities of attempting to predict what Leonard will decide, and she also mentioned the Clippers and Raptors having better odds than the Lakers to sign him:
“I’ve had several people say the whole Laker mystique doesn’t hold any appeal for Kawhi. That’s not why he wanted to be with the Lakers. He wanted to be with the Lakers because he thought they were closer to winning. Then they went out and got LeBron and several people, I will say, who know Kawhi, talk to Kawhi, said, ‘He’s not going to like that. He’s not going to want to play in his shadow.’ But the people who I actually trust in terms of they matter in his decision making, they said, ‘No, he still wants to be with the Lakers because they’re closer to winning.’ Now, I don’t know where he is now that he’s in Toronto, because they haven’t started playing, he hasn’t gone through a winter, he’s just getting started. … I would say Clippers one. I would say Toronto two and Lakers three. … Listen, Toronto can give him more money than anybody else can give him. He literally lost $70 million by getting traded. Toronto can help make some of that back up because they’ll have his bird rights. He’s probably not going to get this Adidas deal they were all thinking about, because Adidas completely just changed their strategy in terms of high-price players. … The Clippers are doing everything they can right now to get ready to make this pitch to Kawhi Leonard and some of the other big-time free agents next summer. … I think it’s fluid, but I would say, I don’t think that LeBron and Kawhi have history together. They’re not friends. Kawhi’s not really friends with anyone.”
While some believed the Lakers signing James meant they’d be further inclined to trade for Leonard, it was reported that the shadow the 14-time champion casts could be problematic. That being said, reports also suggested the signing made Leonard’s desire for a trade to the Lakers stronger, and pegged them as a more attractive option to the Clippers.
What decision Leonard will make is anyone’s guess. But for the Lakers, even if they are to miss out, they conceivably will have other viable options in what’s expected to be a talented 2019 free agency class.