The second day of free agency in the National Basketball Association came and went with the status of Kawhi Leonard officially still up in the air. Even as a flurry of moves involving majority of marquee names of note served to include a full quarter of franchises in the title mix, his own figures to be the biggest game changer in the league’s most open season in recent memory. Which is why all and sundry remain transfixed on his plans for the 2019-20 season and beyond. He’s fresh off a remarkable playoff run that established his status as a dynasty killer and king of the hill, and his would-be decision shifts the balance of power to where he will ply his trade.
Little wonder, then, that the Lakers worked overtime to open up a maximum salary slot leading up to the first day of free agency and then stayed put while just about every other contender nabbed proven talents. So far, they have a grand total of one commitment, and on a minimum contract that doesn’t affect their salary cap standing. They’ve gone all in, and their resolve to hold their ground while players they hitherto expressed interest in went off the market speaks volumes on how much they value Leonard. Likewise, it’s a reflection of their confidence that he will ultimately agree to form the most formidable Big Three in league history.
The risk is enormous, to be sure. Should Leonard decide to stay with the Raptors or align with the Clippers, the Lakers will be left to fight for scraps. Yet, there’s reason for the optimism.
He’s a California native who grew up bleeding purple and gold, and who, when things with the Spurs went sour last year, asked to be moved to the home of his childhood idols. It’s why his camp touched base with living legend and former franchise head Magic Johnson over the weekend; he wanted to know if he was, well, wanted, and if it tried its best to get him at the time. According to the grapevine, he was happy with the reply — that a deal couldn’t be done because his former employers played hardball against arch rivals.
Well, a deal can be done now. And if reports from informal sources are to be believed, a deal is as good as done. All that’s left is for Leonard to cross the “t”s and dot the “i”s by attending previously scheduled meetings with the Clippers and Raptors; absent an unexpected, mind-blowing presentation from either, both will leave with the news that he’s bound for the Lakers. Imagine that. For all the beating they’ve absorbed and for all the dysfunction they’ve shown on and off the court over the last six years, their brand and what it represents continues to hold remarkable luster.
If Leonard does become the latest star to head to La-La Land, he will effectively be signing off on a smooth transition from one generational great to another. He gives LeBron James the opportunity to fade off into the sunset with grace and aplomb, and himself the chance to rule the league in the medium term with Anthony Davis by his side. Meanwhile, he affords the Lakers the privilege of hosting the proceedings. A dynasty in the making? No doubt.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing the Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.