Magic Johnson’s inability to keep secret that Kawhi Leonard had requested to meet with him may have been the beginning of the end of the Lakers’ chances of signing the free agent, a fate that was sealed after information leaked about the topics discussed in that meeting, according to The Athletic.
In a deep dive into Leonard’s largely private free agent process — under the headline “‘We have a deal ready. Are you in?’ Inside the Clippers’ pursuit of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George” — The Athletic’s Jovan Buha and Sam Amick report that Johnson’s actions created trust issues.
Leonard and his camp had asked the teams he was considering — reportedly the Lakers and Raptors, and to a lesser extent the Clippers and Knicks — to avoid letting any information about the process make its way to the media.
When Johnson, who in April had abruptly resigned as Lakers president of basketball operations, told ESPN in late June that Leonard had asked to meet with him, despite Leonard’s request for privacy.
That apparently created some concern for Leonard’s camp.
The meeting was scheduled shortly after he was to meet with Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and GM Rob Pelinka.
Shortly after Johnson — who wasn’t in the Lakers’ official meetings with prospective free agents — met with Leonard and his uncle, Dennis Robertson, information leaked about the topics of their conversation, which “sealed the fate of the Lakers,” per The Athletic story.
“I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and Dennis, that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” an unidentified person involved in the process told The Athletic. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided, ‘We can’t trust the Lakers as an organization.’ And that was it. I think that was it for them.”
The LeBron James-Anthony Davis-Kawhi Leonard super team in LA wasn’t going to happen.
With the Lakers eliminated from the pursuit, the Clippers were left needing to get another superstar to lure Leonard back to Southern California. Acquiring someone like, say, All-Star Paul George, Leonard’s camp had told the team, would be key.
According to The Athletic, the Clippers checked in with the Wizards about Bradley Beal and the Rockets about James Harden but neither was available. (Leonard also reportedly reached out to Kevin Durant and also expressed an interest in pairing with Jimmy Butler, but Durant ended up with Kyrie Irving and the Nets and Butler was dealt to the Heat.)
The Clippers ultimately acquired George from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade that Leonard had encouraged George to request. Leonard, the NBA Finals MVP, then shocked the NBA landscape by announcing in late night that he would sign with the Clippers.
The machinations of Leonard’s landing with the Clippers are symptomatic of issues the NBA reportedly is investigating surrounding this summer’s free agent process.
Meanwhile, Magic Johnson’s failure to keep under wraps his meeting with Leonard isn’t the only reason he won’t be playing for the other NBA team in Los Angeles, but it certainly was a factor.