Tony Avelar/Associated Press
Kawhi Leonard might have been linked to the Los Angeles Lakers during his free agency before ultimately joining forces with Paul George on the Clippers, but Leonard may not have ever been all that enamored with the prospect of wearing purple and gold.
According to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, “A source told The Undefeated early last week that there was ‘no way’ Leonard was going to sign as a free agent with [LeBron] James, [Anthony] Davis and the Lakers despite speculation they were the front-runners.”
Spears also noted “several sources described [Leonard and George] as pretty good friends” and added that the pair reportedly “wanted to play for Clippers coach Doc Rivers.”
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, meanwhile, reported that Leonard seriously recruited George, writing that “at the same time he was meeting with the Lakers and Toronto Raptors this week, Leonard was meeting, calling and texting with George, trying to convince him to find a way out of Oklahoma City.”
Ramona Shelburne @ramonashelburne
The Lakers meeting with Kawhi Leonard was Tues afternoon at a hotel in Westlake Village. Only Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka were there, at KL’s request. The location had been switched from El Segundo, at KL’s request, w/ in 24 hrs. It appears KL met with PG, nearby, same day.
“For a quiet guy, he’s a hell of a recruiter,” a source close to George told Shelburne.
George put in a trade request to Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who promptly extracted Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-rounder and two pick swaps from the Clippers given the immense leverage he had with the Clips desperate to land Leonard.
It was a huge amount to give up for George, but given that it sealed the deal with the Board Man as well, the Clippers essentially traded for two superstars, not just one.
While Leonard may not have wanted to sign with the Lakers, they may have still been his preference had the Clippers been unable to pull off a deal for another star. As ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported:
“When it was time to make a decision on sacrificing the franchise’s long-term future with a historic haul of draft picks, [Steve] Ballmer felt he had no choice. Leonard wanted George, and the Clippers paid an unprecedented price in assets. In the minds of the Clippers’ decision makers, they were delivering a massive return of assets to Oklahoma City for George and Leonard. Without George, they were losing Leonard to the Lakers, sources said.”
In the end, Leonard landed on the Los Angeles team he preferred, did so with another superstar and now headlines a Clippers team that is arguably the favorite to win the NBA title next season.
For the two-time champion, it’s hard to imagine having a much better summer than that.