The Lakers are emerging as a legit contender in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times, who tweets that an increasing number of league insiders – as well as oddsmakers in Las Vegas – view the Lakers as a “significant” threat to sign the NBA Finals MVP.
As we relayed on Friday, Leonard’s camp is lining up at least one meeting with the Lakers. That may end up turning into more than one meeting due to the fact that former president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and still-technically-a-Pelican Anthony Davis aren’t permitted to represent the Lakers on a formal basis in a free agent pitch.
Leonard’s free agency has long been viewed by insiders and experts as a two-team race. The Raptors, having just won a title with Leonard leading the way, are still considered a strong contender for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and are expected to get the final meeting with him next week.
Meanwhile, the Clippers – who will also meet with Kawhi next week – have been regarded all season long as Los Angeles’ biggest threat to recruit Leonard back to his hometown. However, now that the Lakers have created nearly enough space for a maximum-salary offer for Leonard, Stein suggests that the Clippers will have to beat out not just the defending champions but also their cross-town L.A. rivals. According to Stein, the Clippers’ best route to winning over Leonard might be convincing Kevin Durant to choose the Clips as well.
We still don’t know exactly what Leonard’s thinking, and it’s probably premature to classify the Lakers as the frontrunner to sign him, but it certainly seems as if there are at least three viable landing spots for the star forward, rather than just the two that have been mentioned for much of the season.