Anytime a player as great as Kawhi Leonard spurns a couple organizations, there is going to be disappointment — he’s Kawhi freaking Leonard. For the Los Angeles Lakers, Leonard would have meant a shot at a legitimate dynasty. For the Toronto Raptors, he meant an opportunity to compete for consecutive championships after never having been to the finals in franchise history.
Both organizations were left reeling to varying degrees, but apparently both also felt somewhat wronged by Leonard and his camp after the way he handled that free agency decision.
During an episode of “The Hoop Collective,” Brian Windhorst of ESPN painted a picture in which both Toronto and the Lakers felt something beyond the disappointment you would expect after missing out on a talent like Leonard:
“I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing. I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played. Heard complaints from the Raptors, that ... Kawhi came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars, and then left them at the altar.”
Windhorst went on to explain how those teams still acted as if they still had legitimate shots at Leonard, citing Toronto flying him across the country and their big presentation, then the Lakers sitting out free agency and pushing back the Anthony Davis trade at Leonard’s request.
So it feels as if both teams that missed out on Leonard feel led on, which, yeah. Of course they do. They were led on.
Now, whether or not that was Leonard’s intention is another thing altogether.
If the implication is that Leonard went out of his way to wrong these franchises, well, I guess I’m just not willing to go that far. Even Windhorst points out that the Clippers felt nervous right up until the end, too, which indicates either Leonard’s camp is extraordinarily talented at keeping secrets (already plausible) or that he just didn’t know, either. I’d probably guess it’s a little bit of both.
Remember, that Paul George trade happened at the eleventh hour, and the Clippers paid a pretty penny to have those negotiations finished as quickly as they were. It might just have been that Leonard wanted to go to the Clippers, but was having trouble finding the right player to pair up with and a way to make that happen.
Now, in that scenario, his mind was kind of made up, but there was still execution that needed to take place. In which case, the Lakers and Raptors were absolutely right to wait all that out just in case no second star could be acquired. But they also can’t hold their decision to do so personally against Leonard.
Maybe more details will come to light, but as things stand right now, this just feels like sour grapes. It’s also Windhorst reporting on a podcast so maybe he’ll get angry about anyone aggregating him playing things loosely in that format, but he specifically mentions things he heard, which implies sourced information.
Another thing that absolutely needs to be pointed out here: This is all over and all parties have already moved on. The Lakers had a contingency plan in place and executed said plan. They now enter next season as legit title contenders and some of Leonard and the Clippers’ toughest competition for a championship. Toronto is likely heading towards a rebuild, and will do so without DeMar DeRozan’s contract on their books and a championship ring ceremony to hold opening night.
Quite frankly, it really doesn’t matter how anyone feels about Leonard or his camp at this point. All everyone can do is move forward now that his decision has been made.