After helping the Toronto Raptors win their first NBA championship and being named as the Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard became one of the most coveted superstars in the 2019 NBA free agency period. Though he didn’t rule out re-signing with the Raptors, Leonard also decided to give his two hometown teams — the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers — the opportunity to make their free agency pitch. After days of thinking and analyzing where he should play next, Leonard ended up signing a three-year, $103 million contract with the Clippers, who also acquired Paul George in a blockbuster deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Many people were shocked by Leonard’s decision to join the Clippers due to rumors that the reigning Finals MVP and his camp were giving a strong indication that they would be signing with the Lakers. In an appearance on the Hoop Collective Podcast, Brian Windhorst of ESPN revealed that the Lakers felt like “they got played” by Leonard in free agency.
“I’ve heard complaints in the days after the signing,” Windhorst said, as transcribed by NBC Sports. “I heard complaints from the Lakers that they got played.”
Like the Lakers, Windhorst revealed that he also heard complaints from the Raptors regarding how Leonard allegedly handled his free agency. Windhorst said that the Raptors claimed that Leonard “came in and asked for the sun, the moon, the stars then left them at the altar.”
Kawhi Leonard may have named the Raptors as one of his preferred landing spots in free agency but during their free agency meeting, Toronto already sensed that they only have a minimal chance of re-signing “The Klaw.” According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN, Leonard’s camp made “unreasonable” requests that made the Raptors question his desire to return to Toronto for another season.
“In some cases, they were asking for things that [Masai] Ujiri—one of the most well-compensated executives in the league—wouldn’t have even had at his disposal. Their requests were ‘unreasonable,’ a source said, which made the Raptors wonder whether Leonard was seriously considering them at all.”
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) July 19, 2019
The departure of Kawhi Leonard deeply hurt the Raptors. Without him on their roster, it remains a big question mark if they have what it takes to defend their throne in the 2019-20 NBA season. However, despite losing their best player, the Raptors made it clear they have no intention of undergoing a full-scale rebuild and want to continue competing with the talent left on their roster.
Meanwhile, though they failed to bring another top-tier superstar, the Lakers still managed to surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with quality players in the 2019 NBA free agency period. After Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers, the Lakers used their salary cap space to sign DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Troy Daniels, and Quinn Cook. The Lakers also decided to bring back some of their own free agents, including Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Alex Caruso.