Kawhi Leonard has the Toronto Raptors as heavy favorites in at least the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and could very well help them earn the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals berth.
But even with all that said, many close to Leonard believe he’ll still depart for the warm and friendly confines of the west coast this summer. Whether he goes to the Lakers or Clippers to do so, however, is another thing altogether, according to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.
One former player said Leonard’s teammates expect him to leave for Los Angeles after the season, although he didn’t specify which franchise. Outside of a few who suggest Leonard might choose the Lakers, it seems almost everyone around the league (dating back to last July) believes Leonard will join the Clippers instead.
Man, Kyle Lowry has one 0-fer game one and we get this report. Ouch. (kidding, kidding)
In all seriousness, this was always the risk the Raptors took when they acquired Leonard and, chances are, even knowing he could depart at season’s end, they’d probably make that trade all over again.
They knew they had topped out with the core of Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and the group that couldn’t for the life of them take care of business come playoff time, and figured they’d go all-in on this season before rethinking things after what probably would have been another postseason collapse.
Hell, there’s still enough time and reason to hope Leonard rethinks this stance after a potentially deep playoff run.
For the Lakers and Clippers, it’s not at all a stretch to say that Leonard’s choice between them will make or break not only this offseason, but each franchise’s foreseeable future.
If the Clippers walk away from this season with enough momentum to show Leonard how promising they are on and off the court, then all the efforts to get here have been more than worth it and they can continue building with one of the absolute best players in the NBA. It seems some around the NBA already think they’re on that path:
The Clippers “have stuff that sets them apart from like the Lakers: continuity, cohesiveness. They have an owner who will do whatever it takes that’s possible,” an agent tells @jovanbuha. A fascinating look at the Clippers grand plans. https://t.co/nyXHw9krhE— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 18, 2019
However, if the Lakers somehow make it through Magic Johnson’s departure, elevate Rob Pelinka rather than hire one of the elite executives who might be interested in the top job, hire a coach in the opposite order of typical operations and still manage to land Leonard, then, well, the Lakers’ brand is just that strong. And boy would that be a fun day on Twitter.
As I said earlier, though, we are still months away from the time when Leonard actually has to make his decision and this is likely going to be a constantly-evolving situation. First and foremost, the Lakers have to figure out the direction and selling points of this organization so that when they take that meeting with Leonard’s camp, they can do so confidently, as we know the Clippers will. Boy, what weird times we live in, where it’s the Lakers who have ground to make up to catch the Clippers in the pursuit of a free agent.
Still, it appears the Lakers might still be in the hunt, which after all the noise about Leonard to the Clippers this year is good news for the purple and gold. And maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, either. After all, LeBron James himself said he and Leonard would “be in touch,” didn’t he?