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Kawhi Leonard says he was ‘very close’ to choosing Lakers or Raptors in free agency

The Lakers nearly got a commitment from Kawhi Leonard in free agency, but the Paul George trade changed things.

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers-Press Conference Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers and their fans — and the rest of the NBA — waited a week from the start of the free agency moratorium period on June 30 for Kawhi Leonard to make his decision. While no one outside of Leonard’s camp knew exactly what he was thinking during that process, the general consensus was that, at some point, he had his decision narrowed down to three teams: the Toronto Raptors, the LA Clippers and the Lakers.

At the time, the Lakers and Raptors seemed like the most obvious choices for Leonard because they both presented him the opportunity to join a legitimate title contender. The Lakers already had two top-20 players on their roster in Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and the Raptors were less than a month away from winning the title. Meanwhile, the Clippers didn’t have a surefire All-Star on their roster, and were coming off of a first-round exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

That was then. Now, after sending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and five first-round picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for six-time All-Star Paul George, the Clippers are among the favorites to win it all next year.

Had the Clippers not orchestrated that blockbuster trade to get George out of OKC, Leonard might have signed with the Lakers or Raptors instead, as he revealed in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN on Wednesday:

It may sound a little silly to Lakers fans that Leonard preferred play alongside George as opposed to both Davis and James, but during his introductory press conference earlier in the day, Leonard made it clear that the Clippers’ sustained success and foundation over the last several years was a big selling point for him. Yes, the Lakers are expected to be right there with the Clippers in terms of championship contention next season, but it seems as though Leonard wasn’t a fan of the former’s process.

As for the Raptors, they did everything they could to convince Leonard to stay, except make a splashy trade. Even then, it seems likely that Leonard preferred a move back to Southern California, where he grew up.

We’ll find out if he made the right decision a year from now, but he doesn’t sound like he has any regrets about signing with the Clippers. Hopefully the Lakers can make him feel differently next season.

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