On the day he made his first public appearance as the newest franchise player for the LA Clippers, however, Leonard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that Johnson’s leaks weren’t the reason he ruled the Lakers out (emphasis mine):
”No, it wasn’t an issue whatever anyone has to say that’s true. That’s not a reason why I didn’t sign with the Lakers. The conversation was transparent that I had with Magic, and as long as me and him and whoever talked in the conversation was fair or truthful, I don’t have too much to say about it.”
That’s hardly a ringing exoneration, and while it’s hard not to believe that Leonard’s view may have been affected by that, it obviously couldn’t have hurt the Lakers’ case too much, especially given that Johnson isn’t even officially employed by the organization anymore.
Leonard himself has admitted he was “very close” to signing with the Lakers had the Clippers not pulled off their trade for Paul George, and Haynes reported that the Lakers were “likely” the runner up for Leonard’s services:
Leonard would have likely chosen the Lakers if the Clippers hadn’t found a way to pull off the blockbuster trade for George, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
So does everyone who wrote about the other reports owe Johnson an apology? Maybe slightly, but as written above, it’s hard to believe that Leonard would make such a big deal about secrecy and then not care when part of his process was leaked. Especially when Leonard himself has admitted that the Clippers playing things so close to the vest is part of what lead him to choose them. The Lakers seem to have been close, and who knows what could have put them over the top?
Plus, the criticisms of Johnson leaking the whole meeting making him a poor fit as a lead executive still stand. Even if it didn’t cost them Leonard, is someone leaking things to make sure they get their proper share of public credit really the right type of personality to lead a modern NBA organization? That would seem to be a misplacement of priorities and time, and runs counter to what has made the Lakers successful since Johnson’s departure (i.e. their silent-until-completed free agency flurry following Leonard’s decision).
Regardless, ultimately none of this matters now. Leonard is gone, and so is Johnson. Now the Lakers have to move forward, and they’ve been mostly nailing every step of their journey since Leonard went a different way so far. We’ll see if that continues as the season rapidly approaches, and a new rivalry with Leonard, George and the Clippers looms.