The Lakers reportedly felt they got played in their Kawhi Leonard pursuit. Leonard waited a week into free agency as many other potential Lakers fallback signings went elsewhere before committing to the Clippers.
But Leonard also said he was “very close, real close” to signing with the Lakers or Raptors.
Just how close?
Maybe the Paul George trade really was the determining factor.
Leonard would have likely chosen the Lakers if the Clippers hadn’t found a way to pull off the blockbuster trade for George, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
We can never know what Leonard would’ve done if the Clippers didn’t land George. Even Leonard can’t know how he would’ve reacted in that situation.
Was Leonard uncertain on where he’d sign until the Clippers got George, then just figuring after the fact he would’ve chosen the Lakers? That’d require a fair amount of guesswork – even by Leonard himself (though obviously less if it’s coming straight from the source).
Was Leonard planning to sign with the Lakers until the Clippers got George? That’d be far more telling.
But Leonard was clearly trying to find a way to get to the Clippers.
He teamed up with one other star rather than joining two. He reportedly didn’t want the hoopla of playing with LeBron on the Lakers. Leonard reportedly recruited other stars to the Clippers and even moved a meeting with the Lakers so he could meet covertly with George.
The Clippers – loaded with assets, including the monster package they sent the Thunder for George – were bound to upgrade the roster around Leonard. If it weren’t George, it would’ve been someone else. Five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari would’ve pried loose a star soon enough.
Maybe Leonard would’ve picked the Lakers if the Clippers didn’t get George. But there are few scenarios where the Clippers would’ve let Leonard get away without acquiring a co-star for him first.