Kawhi Leonard had one of the most important free agencies in recent memory. The current defending champ and Finals MVP was exploring free agency and his camp went radio silent. No leaks. No information. No nothing. The only thing anyone knew was that Leonard was planning on meeting with three teams: the Lakers, Clippers, and Raptors. What he wanted from a new tea was completely unknown by everybody.
Days went by through free agency and nobody had any idea where Leonard was leaning. Then, suddenly in the middle of the night, it was announced that Leonard would be joining the Clippers and on top of that Los Angeles would be trading for Paul George to pair with Leonard. That made it clear that Leonard wanted to play with George for the Clippers and once the George trade was finalized he was all set on joining them in LA — he said on Wednesday that the opportunity to build something that was their own was a big factor.
Where it gets interesting is what would Leonard had done had the Clippers not managed to pull off the George trade. It took Leonard quite awhile to make his decision and the theory is that he was delaying it to give time for George (or another star) to join the Clippers. L.A. tried and failed to engage in conversations for Bradley Beal and James Harden, per reports, which means had they failed to get George it’s hard to see what other star they could’ve targeted.
Surely there was going to be a point where Kawhi would’ve had to make a decision to go elsewhere if the Clippers couldn’t get it done, but how close did we get to that? Well, Leonard told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he was “very close” to joining the Lakers or Raptors.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 24, 2019
Now this could just be Leonard trying to play nice PR and say that he was truly interested in all three teams, but the Clippers with George was his dream option. However, at some point the team he joined needed time to put a team around him that can win a championship and the longer free agency goes on the more difficult that would get and, also, the more likely things were to get out.
So when Leonard says that he was “very close” to joining the Raptors or Lakers, that could very well mean that the Clippers were walking a super thin line. Of course, none of that matters now and they ended up getting it done before any self-imposed deadline on Kawhi’s end and now they’re a title favorite. Still, at the time Leonard might have been wondering if staying in Toronto where he just won a title or if joining up with LeBron James on the Lakers were better options than a star-less Clippers squad. There are certainly worse plan B’s, but for now all we can do is speculate.