With a shot at Kawhi Leonard, the most coveted free agent on the market and one of the few marquee players left, their entire plan for this summer hinges on his decision. They can’t move until he does, and Leonard did not meet with any teams Sunday.
Magic Johnson spoke with Leonard and his uncle, Dennis Roberston, on Sunday, Johnson told The Times. According to people familiar with the discussion, they had a positive conversation about the direction of the Lakers.
The NBA won’t allow Johnson, who resigned April 9 as team president of basketball operations, to function as a Lakers representative, but his perspective matters to Leonard.
Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka did reach out to Leonard’s camp in an official capacity after the window opened for teams to communicate with players’ representatives.
While Leonard’s camp had initially requested that only Lakers controlling owner Jeanie Buss be present from the team’s front office, they have considered expanding the meeting to include Pelinka, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Leonard is coming off a season in which he led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship and was named Finals MVP.
The Raptors traded for Leonard last summer after the Lakers made an effort to do the same with the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers ultimately found the price too steep, especially after learning that LeBron James’ arrival wasn’t contingent on acquiring another star.
Leonard has roots in Southern California. He grew up in Moreno Valley and went to high school in Riverside before playing two seasons of college basketball at San Diego State.
He has expressed a desire in the past to return to Southern California with either the Lakers or the Clippers. The Raptors have also made a strong impression upon him during his season there and he told the reigning champions he would give them his final meeting.
Throughout his career, Leonard has built a reputation as a dynasty killer. His first title came in 2014 when he led the Spurs to a championship over James’ Miami Heat in the last season he played with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This past season Leonard led the Raptors over the Golden State Warriors, preventing them from becoming three-peat champions as well.
Leonard, a three-time All-Star and All-NBA performer, is the only one of a crop of players sure to earn a maximum contract left on the market with Kevin Durant (Brooklyn), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Kemba Walker (Boston), Jimmy Butler (Miami) and Klay Thompson (Golden State) all reaching agreements Sunday.
While other players made their decisions quickly, Leonard is still gathering information. The Lakers, Clippers and Raptors are all in consideration for his services.
D’Angelo Russell, who was one of the Lakers’ top options if they could not sign Leonard, appears headed to Golden State through a sign-and-trade deal with Brooklyn, according to a person familiar with the situation. The Lakers had made contact with Russell’s representatives but never scheduled a meeting. Through this deal, Russell will be given his full maximum salary, which is $117 million over four years. The Lakers were not planning to give him a maximum contract.
The Lakers also had interest in Patrick Beverley, but he reportedly agreed to remain with the Clippers.