The Kawhi Leonard decision to sign with the LA Clippers came as a shock to the NBA world. Despite being his rumored preferred destination for months, the Toronto Raptors’ championship run and the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Anthony Davis built momentum for those two teams to sign the Finals MVP.
As it turns out, the Lakers were close to snatching Leonard and creating a big three with him, Davis, and LeBron James. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers believed they would lose him to their crosstown rival if they did not make the trade for Paul George:
“The Clippers became the last line of defense for the balance of power in the NBA — never mind the franchise’s own future. The Clippers had come to believe that, without a deal for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers and create a Staples Center partnership of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Leonard, sources said.”
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne also reported that Leonard’s camp was requesting that the Lakers delay the Anthony Davis trade to Saturday and Sunday in order to maximize the cap space needed to sign him. That seems to imply that the Lakers were used as leverage and/or a backup plan if the Clippers were unable to swing a trade for their second star.
Ultimately, the Lakers were not able to give Leonard everything he wanted and he chose to sign with the franchise that has proved to be more stable over the past few years.