Although Kawhi Leonard is averaging 26 points and eight rebounds per game while leading the Toronto Raptors to an 11-1 record to start out the 2018-19 NBA season, it’s still unclear whether the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year will want to continue playing for the Raptors by signing a new contract with the team in the 2019 off season. However, a new report has lent credence to earlier rumors suggesting Leonard isn’t as interested in signing with the Los Angeles Lakers as once thought, mentioning some key reasons why the 28-year-old forward might not prioritize the purple and gold once he becomes a free agent next summer.
On Friday, Blake Murphy of The Athletic wrote about how Leonard’s relationship with the Raptors has started with a “mutually beneficial beginning,” but also discussed the possibilities that may lie in store after the 2018-19 season as he enters free agency. As quoted by ClutchPoints, Murphy noted that there are two things that could make it less likely that Leonard will sign with the hometown Lakers — his well-documented desire to be the focal point of his new team instead of playing in LeBron James’s shadow, and recent issues with the team’s ongoing rebuilding strategy.
“The Los Angeles Lakers boast LeBron James and the greatest marketing advantage in the sport, but there are some around the league who feel that James’s shadow looms too large and that the impatience the Lakers are already showing with their four-year plan could erode their sales pitch.”
While ClutchPoints did not mention any passage from The Athletic that elaborated on why the Lakers are getting “impatient” with their rebuilding efforts, recent reports have suggested that team president Magic Johnson is putting pressure on the Lakers, who currently sport a 5-6 record, to win as many games as possible early on in the 2018-19 season. Aside from citing a previous ESPN report that detailed how Johnson “admonished” head coach Luke Walton for the Lakers’ slow start, the Washington Post mentioned a few other examples of how the NBA legend’s smiling, “perma-cheerful” public demeanor often masks his intense desire to win.
Murphy’s report for The Athletic came four days after ESPN’s Tim Bontemps similarly wrote that the chances of Kawhi Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Lakers might be slim because the All-Star forward prefers to “have control of his own team.” Like Murphy, Bontemps mentioned Los Angeles’ other NBA franchise, the Clippers, as a favorite to acquire Kawhi’s services next summer, but also quoted recent comments Leonard made to reporters, where he said that he “didn’t like the Lakers” despite the fact he grew up in nearby Riverside with a family that loved the team.