Kawhi Leonard‘s free agency held up a lot of other deals as his three primary suitors, the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors, pushed for his services. The two-time NBA Finals MVP ended up choosing the Clippers after the organization managed to swing a trade for Paul George.
Subsequent reports have suggested the two teams who missed out on Leonard may have felt that Kawhi and/or his representatives led on teams during the recruitment process. On the day he and George were introduced at a press conference, a more-talkative-than-usual Leonard set the record straight to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes.
“I didn’t lead anyone on,” Leonard said. “I took my time in free agency, as I should, to make sure I made the best decision for myself and my family. I feel like some of the media coverage over it made it feel that way, with people saying I’m signing with Toronto 99 percent or I’m going to the Lakers 99 percent. I don’t ever want to have that bad karma come back on me trying to make the Lakers miss out on players they should have gotten or vice-versa with the Raptors.”
With his decision, Leonard will become the first player to win an NBA Finals MVP and play for a different team the following season. Leonard’s lone campaign in Toronto was a successful one as the two-time Defensive Player of the Year helped the Raptors advance to and win the first NBA championship in franchise history.
However, the Riverside, California, native had long been known to be seeking to return home. The Lakers and Clippers both represented that opportunity but his childhood fandom for either team had no bearing on his decision.
“Y’all kept saying that me and Paul’s favorite team growing up was the Lakers. I’m not going to say [Yahoo Sports], but whatever media outlet was out there saying that Kawhi prefers the Lakers over the Clippers, or Paul loves the Lakers, was wrong,” Leonard said. “I wasn’t a fan of the Lakers growing up. Not saying that’s why I didn’t choose them, but that’s not what it is. I wasn’t a fan of them, and [Paul] just told you guys he was a Clippers fan.”
At the end of the day, Leonard said the teams in pursuit of him could have pivoted in a different direction at any time if there issues with his approach.
“If they didn’t want to wait for me, they didn’t have to,” Leonard said. “They had a big opportunity to sign me. [The Lakers] were close, but I ended up on the other side.”