With news that Kawhi Leonard has been traded to the Toronto Raptors, some might have thought that the days of endless NBA rumors about his interest in the Los Angeles Lakers or LA Clippers might be over, but it seems they’re just beginning.
According to Marc Stein of the New York Times while talking about whether the threat of the Toronto Raptors trading for Leonard was real in his newsletter — breaking, it was — Stein wrote that we probably shouldn’t expect Leonard to start saying he’ll re-sign anywhere but Los Angeles any time soon:
“Leonard’s camp has given no indication to any interested team that he plans to sign anywhere but Los Angeles (with either the Lakers or the Clippers) in July 2019.”
And even once it became clear that the Raptors were very likely to be trading for Leonard, the reporting around him was that he wouldn’t exactly be rushing to sign an extension in Toronto:
Kawhi Leonard has no desire to play in Toronto, league source tells ESPN.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 18, 2018
And while all of this could obviously change, immediately in the aftermath of the deal, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Leonard was still only considering signing in one destination next summer:
Leonard has been clear that he plans to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer.
That’s three separate, plugged-in-as-hell reporters saying Leonard wants to come to Los Angeles, meaning he actually does, his camp wants us to think he does, or both.
This stance makes sense for Leonard and his reps for a few reasons. On one hand, if the Raptors decide to try and re-flip him at the deadline, it makes it easier for L.A. to offer less because other teams will be afraid of losing Leonard, meaning that if Leonard does get traded to either L.A. roster, they won’t have to give up as many assets.
On the other hand, even if Leonard is willing to go to another team, this would allow that destination to get him from the Raptors for less — much like how the Raptors got him from the Spurs — because they could claim that the danger of him leaving means they can’t give up too much.
The latter scenario would be particularly Machiavellian, but either way, Leonard goes to a team with more assets to help him win instead of less.
Leonard could also just simply really want to join the Lakers (or maybe even the Clippers). In fact, all the reporting before, during and after the trade process would seem to heavily imply that. And while all this could obviously change if Toronto is able to sell him on their culture and city, if Leonard really, truly is dead-set on heading to Los Angeles this summer, than there is no reason for the Lakers to give up assets for him.
Now we wait, and see if Leonard’s much-rumored interest in the Lakers is more like LeBron James’ and less like Paul George’s.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.