The Los Angeles Lakers may have failed to acquire Kawhi Leonard this offseason, but it does not mean that they are no longer interested in adding the All-Star forward to their team. Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and General Manager Rob Pelinka purposely filled their roster with one-year contracts to maintain their salary cap flexibility for the summer of 2019 where Leonard will become an unrestricted free agent.
In the ESPN forecast for the 2019 NBA free agency class, panelist predicted where Kawhi Leonard will start the 2019-20 NBA season. As expected, the Lakers earned the highest vote with 57.6 percent, while the Toronto Raptors (27.3 percent) and the Los Angeles Clippers (15.1 percent) got the second and third spots, respectively.
“The Lakers weren’t able to swing a trade for the former Finals MVP this summer, but the majority of our panel still thinks Leonard will be wearing purple and gold in 2019-20. Leonard has reportedly stated his preference for playing in Los Angeles, making James’ new squad the front-runners for when Leonard becomes a free agent next summer. Their Staples Center neighbors, the Clippers, also received votes, finishing just behind Toronto, the team that was able to eventually pry Leonard out of San Antonio.”
— Dorsal8 (@Dorsal8Games) August 13, 2018
The acquisition of Kawhi Leonard will undeniably make the Lakers a legitimate title contender in the Western Conference. Like Lakers’ lone superstar LeBron James, Leonard is also considered as one of the best two-way players in the league. Having both James and Leonard on their team will give the Lakers a higher chance of beating West powerhouse teams like the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven series.
It’s not a surprise why the Lakers emerged as the top free agency destination for Kawhi Leonard next summer. When the San Antonio Spurs officially made him available on the trading block, Leonard informed teams who were interested in trading for him that he will sign with the Lakers in free agency. Still, the Toronto Raptors took the risk and traded their most loyal player, DeMar DeRozan, to San Antonio for Leonard.
As of now, Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri looked confident that they can convince Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with the team like what the Oklahoma City Thunder did with Paul George. Like Leonard, George also expressed his desire to join the Purple and Gold. However, after spending one season with Russell Westbrook, he immediately re-signed with the Thunder in free agency without even giving the Lakers the opportunity to make their pitch.