When they Lakers finally acquired Anthony Davis from the Pelicans, it seemed like all the puzzle pieces were falling into place. They’d cleared enough cap space to potentially add another near-max player, in no small measure thanks to Davis agreeing to forego his $4 million trade kicker.
In their minds, the table was set to land Kawhi Leonard. The mercurial superstar had been clear about his intention to return to his hometown of Los Angeles since last summer, and playing alongside both LeBron James and Anthony Davis obviously had its allure.
Further, Kawhi reportedly had given the Lakers plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, late on July 5, Kawhi and his camp had asked the Lakers to delay finalizing their trade for Davis, as doing so would’ve kept them within the cap space parameters so they could give Kawhi the max.
However, Kawhi’s agreement to join the Clippers was announced just hours later, leaving the Lakers feeling like they’d be toyed around with through the whole process. Here’s what Brian Windhorst had to say about it on The Hoop Collective podcast:
“I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing,” Windhorst said. “I’ve heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. I’ve heard complaints from the Raptors that Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.”
The Lakers, for their part, would have to settle for superstar duo rather than the trio they’ve pined for since LeBron’s arrival, but they’ve also been able to use that leftover cap space to fill the roster with quality role players like Danny Green and Avery Bradley, to name a few.
Obviously, Kawhi’s free agency was going to make a lot of people unhappy regardless of where he chose to play, but the Lakers certainly felt the most bummed about it and have not been shy about expressing it.