NBA Rumors: Kawhi Leonard Was Close To Picking The Los Angeles Lakers, But Paul George Trade Tipped The Scales

Kawhi Leonard in an NBA game.
Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Kawhi Leonard was expected to join the Los Angeles Lakers once he hit free agency, but ended up picking the Clippers in the biggest shocker of the offseason.

Now, a new report has revealed that it was a very close decision.

In the days leading up to the NBA Finals MVP’s decision, there were widespread reports that the Lakers were well in the lead for Leonard and there were even some sportswriters who said that it was all coming down to the details of the deal. But Leonard ended up picking the Clippers after the Lakers’ in-arena rival pulled off the blockbuster trade to land George, who Kawhi had personally recruited to join him in Los Angeles.

It almost didn’t turn out that way. As Yahoo Sports reports, Leonard was ready to pick the Lakers if the Clippers hadn’t been able to deal for George.

In an interview with the outlet, Leonard said that he went into the free agency with an open mind and never meant to lead on the Lakers. So when there were reports claiming that he was almost assuredly signing with the Lakers, Leonard said that wasn’t coming from his camp.

“I didn’t lead anyone on,” Leonard told Yahoo Sports.

“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.”

There were some immediate reports that the Lakers may have missed out due to Magic Johnson’s involvement. As Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic reported, Magic Johnson’s decision to go public with the conversations he had with Kawhi Leonard’s uncle and adviser burned trust with Kawhi, who is famously private with his business dealings.

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Despite the rumors that the Lakers could have landed Leonard, it’s not clear if they could have matched the price the Clippers were willing to pay to put the entire deal together. The deal for Paul George came together very quickly due to the Clippers’ willingness to land Kawhi and came at a big cost. The Clippers parted with guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari, and a total of five first-round picks.