Here’s what we know as it pertains to Kawhi Leonard‘s impending decision: Nothing.
But there are some things we can agree on: Leonard’s choices are down to Los Angeles and Toronto, with a clear scenario awaiting for him with the Raptors — return to T.O. and assume the role of being the most famous and popular athlete in Canada right now, while having a clear shot at back-to-back championships.
The scenario he’d inherit in L.A. is murkier, but no less enticing. He can return to his hometown and with the Clippers assume a similar challenge as last season by taking a strong supporting cast and carrying them into championship territory. Or with the Lakers, he can complete one of the most talented trios in NBA history and play for the team he watched growing up.
All season long it was practically assumed that unless the Raptors won it all and made the most of their season with Leonard in the fold to recruit him to stay (which they did as successfully as they could have hoped), he would join the Clippers. Reports indicated that he didn’t want to play in LeBron James‘s shadow, and preferred the challenge of toppling the King on his own, as opposed to joining a superteam, which more or less ruled out the Lakers as an option.
But that seems to have changed in the span of a week. Suddenly, it’s the Lakers who reportedly are in the driver’s seat between the two L.A. teams, with Leonard holding court with Hall of Famer Magic Johnson. Leonard’s meetings with the Lakers, the Clippers and, lastly, the Raptors are set to wrap up Tuesday.
Here’s a look at what a number of “insiders” and reports are saying about the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes Tuesday.
Raptors getting help from Drake
In the face of increasing mumblings that Leonard could very well be L.A.-bound, Marc Stein of The New York Times reports the Raptors are fighting hard as ever for Kawhi. And they’ll be getting a boost from their most famous fan, as Drake is reportedly in recruitment mode, too.
3. The Raptors haven't backed off one centimeter and Drake is said to be mounting his own recruiting campaign on top of whatever the freshly minted champions are doing to convince him to stay
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 2, 2019
The Lakers have come in hot in recent days, but Leonard reportedly remains no closer to a decision or deliberation even through the first three days of free agency.
With a pivotal week ahead for each franchise, Cris Carter, who has been reporting on the Kawhi front with confidence all season long, says there is no favourite among the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers, and there won’t be until Leonard meets with each team and then takes time to make his decision.
Passing the test?
On Sunday night ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said part of the lack of concrete rumours and information being leaked to media sources is a result of a “loyalty test” Kawhi and his camp are giving to teams.
The Raptors have been tight-lipped through this process, which should give them the edge in this regard.
Lakers now the ‘first choice’?
If the test is to keep quiet, then the Lakers are failing.
There has been a ton of chatter from reporters and their sources throughout the free agency process and among the three contenders the only leaks are coming from the Lakers side. From details of Magic Johnson’s conversation with Kawhi and his uncle, Dennis Robertson, to ongoing reports concerning the front office’s confidence level in landing Leonard and the “assurances” of one LeBron James:
What we know:
1. The Lakers, as we've been saying for more than a week now, believe they are firmly in the lead largely through the recruiting efforts and assurances made on separate fronts from Magic Johnson and LeBron James …
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 2, 2019
It shouldn’t be a shock that the Lakers are in the running. Two seasons ago, when Leonard wanted out of San Antonio amid divisions between his camp and team doctors — and Leonard and his Spurs teammates, who openly questioned his health status — it was reported that Leonard requested a trade specifically to the Lakers. San Antonio’s asking price was considered too high due to the questions surrounding Leonard’s injured quad and the deal obviously never materialized. But if any of that is to be believed, then it shouldn’t be a huge surprise the Lakers are back on Kawhi’s radar.
In fact, now they’re his preferred destination — that is, if you believe Chris Broussard, who has a rocky history as a reliable source of NBA news, and just a week ago reported the Clippers were the favourites.
Joining Colin Cowherd on FS1’s “The Herd.” Broussard said the Lakers are now the top choice, and shed some light on Leonard’s conversation with Magic Johnson:
“I’m being told the Lakers are Kawhi Leonard’s first choice,” Broussard said. “He and his camp spoke with Magic yesterday and laid out what they want from the Lakers. Nothing crazy, just some additions to the staff and asking, ‘Is Kawhi going to be treated like LeBron in the organization?’ and all of that. As long as Jeanie doesn’t do anything to screw it up in the meeting, I’m told that’s his first choice.”
Kawhi-to-Lakers a very real threat
While it goes against much of our notions about Kawhi Leonard as a competitor — save for the whole wanting to win championships thing — that he would opt to join LeBron and Anthony Davis on a loaded-if-too-top-heavy Lakers team next season, it’s reportedly way more than conjecture at this point.
On his podcast, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who cut his teeth covering LeBron James closely since high school, says that, while he doesn’t actually know (join the club) and didn’t see it coming, the increasing noise surrounding Leonard possibly joining the Lakers shouldn’t be ignored.
“I am feeling more like the Lakers are a chance,” he said. “…I do believe there is some real traction towards the Lakers. I still think the Clippers are the pick, but I admit I don’t know at this point.”
“I’m in total agreement with you, Brian,” added his guest, NBA writer Jackie MacMullan. “Clearly, there’s too much smoke for there not to be a little bit of fire here.”
Kendrick Perkins, longtime NBAer and current analyst who remains plugged into the league — he notably called Durant-to-the-Nets weeks ahead of that deal — added fuel to that fire Monday night when he said that Leonard was meeting with the Clippers, but that team had to work a miracle to dissuade the reigning Finals MVP from joining the other L.A. franchise.
We’ll update as we hear more. In the meantime, the NBA and its worldwide audience await Leonard’s decision, one that regardless of the flurry of major moves that took place over the past two days, will instantly shift the balance of the league.