A subplot to NBA free agency this past summer was the fractured relationship between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs organization. Because of it, Leonard reportedly met with head coach Gregg Popovich and requested to be traded.
At that point it was believed the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers were among Leonard’s preferred destinations, in large part due to his Southern California roots. Both Prior to and after signing LeBron James, the Lakers showed restraint in breaking up their young core via trade.
That created a window of opportunity for other teams, and the Toronto Raptors capitalized by assembling a trade package around DeMar DeRozan. Raptors president Masai Ujiri was fully aware of the risk that came with acquiring Leonard in the final year of his deal but is optimistic the franchise and city will make a strong impression.
The blueprint for such was set by the Oklahoma City Thunder with their trade for and eventual re-signing of Paul George. He, more so than Leonard, was long considered a Lakers lean.
Leonard’s future nonetheless remains a hot-button topic, and according to ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, perception is the Clippers have an inside track over the Lakers to potentially sign him come free agency:
A survey of several league executives this weekend had the Lakers trailing, even among Staples Center tenants, in the competition to get Leonard, with the LA Clippers universally being placed ahead of them. Rather than seeking to team up with James, the thinking is that Leonard would prefer to have control of his own team, which the Clippers would offer, while still giving him the ability to return to his native Southern California.
In the aftermath of James signing with the Lakers, there were conflicting reports over Leonard’s feeling toward possibly playing alongside him. Though the more common refrain has now been the 2014 NBA Finals MVP would prefer to not play second fiddle on the Lakers.
Leonard made headlines over the weekend when he revealed his family was full of Lakers fans but he did not fall into that group and instead idolized Allen Iverson.