Kawhi Leonard is setting the record straight.
In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports after his introductory press conference Wednesday, the Clippers star addressed the idea that he led the Lakers on before signing with the other Los Angeles squad.
“If they didn’t want to wait for me, they didn’t have to,” Leonard said. “They had a big opportunity to sign me. [The Lakers] were close, but I ended up on the other side.”
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) July 25, 2019
Leonard told ESPN he was “very close” to joining the Lakers or going back to the Raptors, but ended up choosing the Clippers after they acquired his friend and fellow star Paul George in a trade with the Thunder. He had also been linked to the Knicks and Nets, though it was widely believed the Southern California native would return home.
“I didn’t lead anyone on,” Leonard continued. “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.
“Y’all kept saying that me and Paul’s favorite team growing up was the Lakers. I’m not going to say [Yahoo Sports], but whatever media outlet was out there saying that Kawhi prefers the Lakers over the Clippers, or Paul loves the Lakers, was wrong,” Leonard told Yahoo Sports. “I wasn’t a fan of the Lakers growing up. Not saying that’s why I didn’t choose them, but that’s not what it is. I wasn’t a fan of them, and [Paul] just told you guys he was a Clippers fan.”
Leonard was dealt from the Spurs to the Raptors last year and helped Toronto win its first title last month. The two-time NBA Finals MVP then opted out of the final year of his contract with the Raptors and became an unrestricted free agent before signing with the Clippers.