Remember when Paul George was a lock to join the Lakers? And it was silly to think the Thunder had any chance of keeping him? And then he re-signed with Oklahoma City and didn’t give Los Angeles a meeting?
It turns out nothing is guaranteed over the course of an NBA season, and that lesson should now be applied to another soon-to-be free agent.
New Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard will hit the open market next summer (assuming he turns down his player option). Toronto is in position to sell Leonard on its culture over the course of the next few months, but it’s possible he still ends up in Los Angeles — even if he doesn’t sign with the Lakers.
TRADE RUMORS: Suns looking to acquire Clippers’ Patrick Beverley?
During a recent segment on “Mason and Ireland,” ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who has done extensive reporting on both the Lakers and Leonard, said she believes the Clippers and Raptors are currently ahead of the Lakers in the Kawhi sweepstakes.
“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 [James] 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. He hasn’t even done a press conference… 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 that they were all thinking about, because Adidas completely just changed their strategy in terms of high-price players. Well, he had Nike, and he left the deal on the table.”
Since the trade between the Spurs and Raptors was completed, Toronto has seen a few encouraging signs. Leonard is reportedly entering the 2018-19 season with an open mind, and Danny Green, who was included in the deal, said Toronto will be “hard to turn down.” Of course, there is also the financial component. The Raptors can offer significantly more than another team in free agency, though it remains to be seen how much that matters to Leonard.
As for the Clippers, they are “doing everything they can right now” to prepare for their opportunity with Leonard, according to Shelburne. The franchise is serious enough about this pursuit that former analyst Bruce Bowen didn’t receive a new contract after critical comments about Leonard.
The Clips can offer Leonard all of the benefits of Los Angeles without the intense scrutiny and attention that comes with being a Laker. That could make a difference for the notoriously private star. If Leonard is on board, the Clippers could also attract another big-name free agent in the process.
Of course, all of this is bound to change in the next hour, day, week or month. The key word is “fluid.” No one truly knows what Leonard himself is thinking. But with Kawhi Watch 2018-19 in full swing, it’s at least worth noting this latest development.