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Kawhi Leonard signs with Clippers

Kawhi Leonard will not be re-uniting with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers. Now the team has to show us how good their backup plan actually is.

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NBA: Toronto Raptors-Championship Parade John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

After days of Twitter-refreshing and plane tracking, the Los Angeles Lakers have missed out on their top free agent target, as Kawhi Leonard has instead decided to sign with the LA Clippers, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

This is obviously a disappointing outcome for the Lakers, who were very confident they had a real chance to lure Leonard. For fans, this one is going to hurt, especially since the team really seemed to have a chance with him. Leonard was clearly the best free agent on the market, and now the team will be forced to pivot to their backup plan, which reportedly is to split up their approximately $32 million in cap space among multiple role players.

That could work out, but losing out on potentially the best player in the NBA is still a dispiriting outcome for a summer in which the Lakers had a real shot to assemble the greatest big three of all time, and instantly vaunt themselves into being title favorites in the process. Instead, L.A. will be trolling the bottom of the barrel for free agency options, as every other star they were linked to is off the market, as well as several role players.

Going from Leonard to the merry minimum’s is a real “life comes at you fast moment,” but still, waiting on Kawhi was still the right call, even if this outcome isn’t ideal. This was just always the potential downside of that plan. That’s the thing with gambles, you can lose them, and you can lose big.

Still, as much as this probably hurts, it’s not time to overreact. It’s not like the Lakers missed out on very many good players or good contracts in the first few days of free agency, which saw players not much better than the ones available now make money they may struggle to live up to. It’s better to get no one than repeat the mistakes of 2016.

Plus, the Lakers still have LeBron James, Anthony Davis and max cap room. Even if they can’t sign a star anymore, that still leaves the team with a real chance to build a contender. The path to a title will be more difficult without Leonard, but the Lakers still have a shot to stick the landing on this offseason by signing a few decent role players with their remaining money to give the team some depth — players we’ll likely hear about quickly in the aftermath of this news. That’s not as good as signing Leonard, obviously, but it’s still a viable path towards meaningful basketball.

Signing the best free agent is always a desirable outcome for any NBA team heading into the summer, but it’s never a reasonable expectation, and now the Lakers will have to pivot to their backup plans. It’s totally reasonable to be disappointed for now, but it’s important to remember that the team absolutely still has a chance to figure this out and assemble a really strong roster around two of the best players in the league, even if things don’t feel hopeful right this second.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. Here is a list of every free agent credibly connected to the Lakers so far. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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