Although recent reports indicate that the Lakers feel that Kawhi Leonard “played” them in free agency, Leonard sat down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols to clear the air regarding his decision. Coming off a historic postseason run that saw him pick up his second Finals MVP, Leonard was the most sought after free agent in a class loaded with elite talent.
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Kawhi Leonard Was ‘Very Close’ to Picking Lakers in Free Agency
The Lakers and Raptors missed out on a number of quality top free agents by waiting for Leonard and while they were ultimately unsuccessful, it seems that both had a very realistic chance at landing Leonard. The tipping point, according to Leonard, came when the Clippers were able to swing a surprise deal for Paul George – a running mate and location that he simply couldn’t afford to pass up.
Leonard was born and raised in Southern California – same as George – and while the Clippers don’t offer the same prestige as the Lakers, they give Leonard a more low-key option in his hometown. While Leonard is focused on growing his brand, he notoriously shies away from the spotlight and the Clippers seem to give him the ability to play in a major market but still keep his low profile.
Had Leonard picked the Lakers, he would have been thrust into arguably the brightest spotlight the sport has ever seen creating a “big 3” alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While it is fun to imagine what could have been, the cold reality is that Leonard now shares a division, conference, and building with the Lakers and poses arguably their biggest roadblock on the quest for title 17.
Lakers Possess Considerably More Depth Following Losing Out on Kawhi Leonard
Once the Lakers lost on out Leonard, they went on a huge spending spree to fill in their remaining roster holes. Immediately they landed Leonard’s former teammate Danny Green and later added former All-NBA star, DeMarcus Cousins. They also addressed arguably their biggest weakness last season – outside shooting – by adding Green and proven sharpshooters like Troy Daniels and Quinn Cook.
This version of the Lakers looks to offer considerably better floor spacing compared to last season’s unit. The extra room to work should do wonders for the LeBron/Davis two-man game and give them considerably more space around the rim. While both players can knock down the deep ball, they are at their best finishing through traffic close to the rim and the plethora of outside shooters should give LeBron much more reliable outlets for kick-outs when opposing defenses collapse.
While a big three of James, Davis, and Leonard is incredibly terrifying on paper, the ability to use Leonard’s max salary money to pick up a number of quality contributors might serve the Lakers slightly better over the course of a long 82 game season.