A few national reporters have speculated about it, but we now have our first iron-clad, sourced report that Kawhi Leonard now prefers the LA Clippers over the Los Angeles Lakers as a trade destination because of the arrival of LeBron James.
Michael C. Wright, who (along with Ramona Shelburne of ESPN) was among the first to be all over the rift between Leonard and the Spurs, reported on the “Back to Back” podcast that the Clippers are now Leonard’s top choice for his next team (via Pro Basketball Talk):
The Lakers are not Kawhi’s preferred destination anymore. He wants to go to the Clippers. Because he doesn’t want to go and be second fiddle to Lebron. That’s what I was told, and I was told by somebody that would know.
However, Leonard wanting the Clippers apparently doesn’t mean he’ll get to the Clippers:
I talked to people within the Spurs organization, and they’re like, “Well, yeah. He wants to go to the Clippers, but their assets are s— at this point.” That’s what I was told.
And because of how “s—” the Clippers’ assets are, this report is even more reason the Lakers shouldn’t be in a rush to trade for Leonard. The Clippers can’t beat the Lakers’ best offer, so the Spurs still have very little leverage, but if this report is true, the Lakers certainly shouldn’t be willing to give up Lonzo Ball or Brandon Ingram for Leonard.
Earlier in this strange saga, I was of the mind that the Lakers should be willing to give up Ingram if Leonard proves healthy, a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush and all. If Leonard doesn’t want to be in LA, or is reticent to play second-fiddle to LeBron James? Then that changes things, and the Lakers shouldn’t even consider gambling on him with a blue-chip prospect like Ingram or Ball because it does not appear that he’ll stay.
However, this is not to question that Wright was told what he was told by someone close to Leonard or the Spurs, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. Leonard’s camp could be trying to motivate the Clippers to up their offer in order to get the Lakers to make an offer that meets San Antonio’s demands in order to get him to the Lakers sooner, or they could be trying to draw that type of attention from other teams around the league with the mindset of “Hey, if Leonard is changing his mind this much, maybe we could trade for him and convince him to stay.” Either scenario would drive up the Spurs’ leverage, and potentially force the Lakers to improve their trade package and get Leonard to L.A. now, or alternatively, could force the Spurs to lower their asking price from the Lakers if Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka balk at not being Leonard’s preferred team.
Basically anything could happen, and there are tons of reasons for information like this to leak out, but it also could be true. Maybe Leonard doesn’t want to play with LeBron, or doesn’t want the hit to his marketing value that would come from being the second star in Los Angeles — although color me skeptical that the star of the Clippers would have a higher Q-Rating in L.A. than even the secondary or third star of the Lakers.
Either way, the Lakers shouldn’t even consider giving up any of their limited future assets for Leonard if they aren’t sure he’s going to stay, so if these talks weren’t in a holding pattern before, they certainly should be now.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.