Shortly after Kawhi Leonard chose to sign with the LA Clippers over the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors in free agency, Cris Carter — who was famously plugged-in with Leonard’s camp during the whole process — tweeted that how much Magic Johnson leaked about his talk with Leonard and his circle “didn’t help” the Lakers’ case to add Leonard.
Now the NFL Hall-of-Famer and Fox Sports opinionist isn’t the only one reporting as much, as Sam Amick and Jovan Buha of The Athletic are also reporting that Johnson’s leaking seemed to hurt Leonard’s view of the Lakers:
Magic Johnson, the Lakers legend who abruptly resigned as president of basketball operations in late May and proceeded to torch owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka on national television weeks later, thought it wise to broadcast that Robertson had called to pick his brain about the purple-and-gold before free agency had even begun.
“I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and Dennis, that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” a person involved in the process told The Athletic. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can’t trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them.”
According to Buha and Amick, that wasn’t actually “it” for the Lakers, but between their reporting and what Carter said, it definitely sounds like Johnson’s actions made their path to Leonard a lot tougher:
Though that act alone didn’t eliminate the Lakers — Leonard still met and communicated with them before his decision — Johnson’s leakage certainly didn’t help his former employer’s pitch.
Now, there are a couple ways one could look at this leak. Is it the Lakers trying to shift blame onto Johnson after whiffing on Leonard? Is it Leonard’s camp attempting to justify their choice to join the Clippers? Those are just two of fairly endless possibilities, the most likely of which is actually just that these leaks are the truth, and that Johnson trying to make sure he got his proper share of credit for the Lakers landing Leonard backfired.
The whole crux of Amick and Buha’s piece is how much silence Leonard wants his organization to operate in. The Lakers themselves have been far quieter since Johnson stepped down, and given that the first inkling that this hurt them came from Carter — one of the few reliable sources on Leonard’s camp throughout this whole process — it’s pretty easy to guess by reading between the lines that they really didn’t appreciate Johnson airing their laundry during free agency like he did while the Clippers (and even the Raptors) kept things really quiet.
What this really drives home, though, is that the Lakers are much better off without Johnson. He’ll obviously always be remembered positively by some in the fanbase for his legendary playing career, but from the unprofessional way he blindsided the organization by stepping down on the final night of the season, to the way he reportedly behaved during his entire time there, and now even helping cost the team a chance at arguably the greatest big three the league has ever seen, it’s hard to argue where Johnson really added value to the team as an executive. Especially when considering how much more quietly and competently they’ve operated in his absence. aside from their botched coaching search.
But even after the latter messiness, the team mostly knocked free agency out of the park in the aftermath of Leonard spurning them, and they did so in a way that showed they had contingency plans and value the right things (i.e. shooting), rather than trying to reinvent the wheel using names Johnson can recognize from the playoff games he watched over the last 10 years.
So losing out on Leonard was a loss, yes, but this is yet another sign that the purple and gold made a gain this summer as well, even aside from the Anthony Davis trade. Johnson is gone, and the information that’s surfaced and way things have turned out since make it nearly impossible to argue that’s not ultimately a good thing for the Lakers.
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