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Kawhi Leonard not swayed by ‘mystique’ of Lakers, more likely to sign with Clippers, Raptors

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The latest NBA free agent rumors don’t paint a positive picture for those hoping that the Lakers can add Kawhi Leonard.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers used to seem like a near shoe-in destination for Kawhi Leonard, but since he was traded to the Toronto Raptors and the Lakers added LeBron James, such an outcome has started to seem less likely.

Jalen Rose isn’t normally known for NBA news breaking, but he recently all-but-guaranteed that Leonard won’t be a Laker, which is notable given that he said that Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs was broken before others did.

That’s hardly a guarantee he’ll be right again, but when informed of what Rose during an appearance on “Mason and Ireland” on ESPN Radio, Ramona Shelburne said she’s “heard a lot of different things” about where Leonard will end up, but that if he ends up on the Lakers, it won’t be for sentimental or nostalgic reasons:

“When we checked on that back in July, we were told no that’s (Kawhi preferring the Lakers to the Clippers) not accurate, that’s what the Spurs think but he really does want to be a Laker, but this was before the trade to Toronto. So now he’s in Toronto, and Toronto is pulling out all the stops.

“I’ve had several people say that the whole Laker mystique doesn’t hold any appeal for Kawhi, that’s not why he wanted to be with the Lakers. He wanted to be with the Lakers because he thought they were closer to winning. Then they went out and got LeBron and several people who know Kawhi, talk to Kawhi say he’s not going to like that, he’s not going to want to play in his shadow. But the people who I actually trust in terms of they matter in his decision making, they said no he still wants to be with the Lakers because they’re closer to winning. Now I don’t know where he is now that he’s in Toronto.”

Wherever Leonard is right now, though, Shelburne made it sound like she doesn’t think that he’ll be with the Lakers come next July when was asked to rank the most likely destinations for the former Spurs star based on what she’s hearing:

”I would say Clippers one, Toronto two and Lakers three... I think it’s fluid, but I would say I don’t think that LeBron and Kawhi have a history together. They’re not friends, Kawhi’s not really friends with anyone.”

As Shelburne noted, this is very much a “fluid” situation, and a lot of things can change between now and July. And while James and Leonard not being friends doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t be teammates, it’s also often said that where there is smoke there’s fire, and there has certainly been tons of smoke implying that Leonard is less than thrilled by the idea of teaming up with James in Los Angeles.

Leonard and James would be a perfect basketball fit, but players don’t always make moves for basketball reasons. Leonard lost quite a bit of money by not staying with the Spurs, and the Raptors can use his Bird rights to help him recoup some of that cash. The Clippers offer him a chance to be the leader of a team, and maybe his people think a richer shoe deal will come from that than from teaming with maybe the greatest player ever on the league’s most popular franchise. That seems... dubious, but enough people have parroted the line that it seems possible Leonard’s camp actually believes that.

Still, July is a long way off, and its important to remember that no one actually knows anything right now. There were tons of reports last year that the Lakers weren’t actually that high on James’ list of destinations, a reminder that what a player wants only matters and becomes crystal clear when they decide to sign on the dotted line. Leonard hasn’t done that anywhere yet, which means he’s still available, even if the Lakers seem less likely than they did a few months ago.

You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.