LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Kawhi Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to the NBA title earlier this month, will speak to the Los Angeles Lakers as he considers free agency offers, ESPN reported on Friday.
But the report said Leonard only wants to meet with two specific people, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.
Johnson, a legendary star for the Lakers in their 1980s “Showtime” era, resigned from his job in April and accused Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka of backstabbing him.
Johnson said he was being sent to Pelinka when assured he would report to Buss in his dealings with the club.
Leonard, a 27-year-old American forward, likely wants to know all the details behind the split and its lasting impact upon the Lakers before he considers playing for his hometown team, which has pulled together enough money to make a maximum contract offer to another player in the off-season.
If the Lakers can overcome their front office chaos and make an effective pitch to Leonard, he could join LeBron James and Anthony Davis, set to come to the Lakers in a trade deal with New Orleans that cannot be confirmed until July 6, to create a powerhouse superteam lineup for the purple and gold.
Leonard did not opt into the final year of his contract with the Raptors, making him an unrestricted free agent.
While he is likely to receive a top offer from the Raptors that exceeds what any rival could offer, Leonard could sign a two-year deal and be in position to maximise his money in 2021 by even more if he so desires.
Leonard could also return to the Raptors, with whom he won his second NBA crown. Leonard was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals this year and with San Antonio when he sparked the San Antonio Spurs to the 2014 title. He was traded from the Spurs to the Raptors last July.
The Los Angeles Clippers are also expected to offer a major pitch to Leonard, who grew up in the Los Angeles area.
But another ESPN report says Leonard would allow the Raptors to make the final presentation to him next week as he decides where he will play next season.
Leonard could be the biggest impact player for next season in free agency given Golden State star forward Kevin Durant is expected to miss the entire 2019-20 campaign with a ruptured Achilles tendon and Warriors guard Klay Thompson will need time to recover from a torn left knee ligament.