As the Los Angeles Lakers were preparing for the start of NBA free agency and the pursuit of LeBron James, they also were among the teams connected to the Kawhi Leonard saga as he worked to force a split from the San Antonio Spurs organization.
With the relationship between Leonard and the team fractured, he reportedly met with head coach Gregg Popovich and requested to be traded. The Lakers and Clippers were named as Leonard’s preferred destinations, which wasn’t much of a surprise considering his Southern California roots.
After James agreed to a four-year contract with the Lakers, there were plenty of expectations they would then shift their focus to Leonard in order to acquire a second star. However, the Lakers ultimately stood pat and forged ahead with James, new veterans and their young core.
Although he may have sought a return to Los Angeles, Leonard revealed it wasn’t spawned from a childhood of growing up a Lakers fan, via Mirjam Swanson of the Southern California News Group:
“No, I wasn’t, I wasn’t at all,” Leonard said. “My family was, but I wasn’t.”
Young Leonard was cheering for another cornrow-rocking superstar.
“I liked Allen Iverson,” he said of the Philadelphia 76ers guard. “I was an A.I. fan, so I didn’t like the Lakers.”
While the Lakers decided against meeting the Spurs’ high asking price for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, the Toronto Raptors used DeMar DeRozan as the centerpiece of a trade. They did so with an understanding Leonard may very well wind up being a one-year rental.
The gamble is paying early dividends as the Raptors are atop the Eastern Conference standings with an 8-1 record. Leonard has appeared in seven games and is considered questionable to face the Lakers on Sunday because of a jammed left ankle.
When the NBA schedule was released for the 2018-19 season, many circled Sunday’s matchup at Staples Center as one of note and potentially the start of the fans’ recruitment of Leonard.