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Kawhi Leonard

Editorials

Did Kawhi Leonard ‘play’ the Lakers this offseason in free agency?

This summer is easily one of the best offseasons we’ve had not only in recent years, but arguably throughout the entire history of the NBA. There was absolutely no shortage of suspense and drama, and what most people would say is that the move that made the most impact this summer would have to be that of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Even before the free agency window opened, we already knew that the Clippers were one of the favorites to land the reigning Finals MVP. Along with the Toronto Raptors and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers were one of the three teams Leonard had reportedly narrowed down his decision to.

However, what made his decision to sign with the Clippers so shocking was the fact that he virtually brought Paul George with him. As we all know, George was acquired by the Clippers from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a blockbuster trade at almost the exact same time they signed Kawhi. This is by no means a coincidence, as it has been openly reported that Leonard himself recruited George.

The timing of this deal is what makes this stand out as a very interesting case. To some, this has been viewed as a perfectly orchestrated plan by Leonard and his camp to sabotage the offseason plans of their cross-town rivals, the Lakers. While this definitely sounds all conspiracy theory-ish on the onset, let’s take a look if this accusation actually holds some bearing.

First off, the most important thing to note here is that the Lakers so clearly thought that they had a shot at Leonard, when in reality, they probably never did. Kawhi, an L.A. native, certainly wanted to play in his hometown, but as it turns out, his plan was to sign with the Clippers all along.

Before Leonard made his decision to sign with the Clippers, the Lakers were playing the waiting game. In truth, they were left with very little choice. Surely, they would have been at fault for not taking a chance at one of the league’s best players, especially when they were led to believe that they were actually the frontrunners. For his part, Kawhi kept the Lakers extremely interested by meeting with them and letting them pitch him.

It is also worth noting that unlike most of the other big names on the free agency market, Leonard did not make his announcement on Day 1 of free agency. Instead, he waited a week or so before making his decision official. This had a huge impact on the Lakers, who were saving up all the cap space they had remaining on Kawhi. During this week in limbo, the Purple & Gold missed out on some other potential free agents that would have made them a much stronger side. This includes Bojan Bogdanovic, Brook Lopez, Seth Curry, and J.J. Redick, to name a few, who all signed with their respective teams while the Lakers were waiting on Kawhi.

Now once Leonard made his decision public, the Lakers scrambled and signed the best remaining players that were still available in the market. JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all had their deals renewed by the Lakers, but perhaps the biggest shock was Danny Green’s $30 million two-year deal. Don’t get us wrong; Green is good, but he definitely isn’t $15 million per season good.

With the Lakers pretty much settling for scraps, the team will be entering the season with a formidable side, but one that is not best-equipped to make the most of the few years LeBron James has left. By missing out on guys like Bogdanovic and Lopez, it could be argued that L.A. might be wasting yet another year of LeBron’s prime. Sadly for them, they will have Kawhi to thank for that.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to blame Leonard for doing everything in his power to ensure that his team holds the competitive edge — under the assumption of course, that all this was part of an elaborate plan. He just simply wants to win, and perhaps, took advantage of a situation that was presented to him.

If there’s anyone to blame here then it should be the Lakers front office. Again, no one can fault them for shooting their shot, but it’s the lack of a contingency that appears to be the problem here.

Nevertheless, being able to successfully pair two of the Top five players in the game today in LeBron and Anthony Davis is still an absolute win for the Lakers. Now, whether or not it will be enough to lead them to their first NBA title since the Kobe Bryant era remains to be an altogether different question.