Los Angeles Clippers Tactics Pulled Kawhi Leonard Away from Toronto
The Toronto Raptors felt very comfortable with where they stood with Kawhi Leonard heading into free agency.
The Raptors fulfilled their end of the bargain and Leonard helped deliver the organization its first NBA championship. With the load management concept, the Raptors were able to keep Leonard healthy throughout the season and the playoffs, they were more than ready to shell out the most money Leonard could receive on the open market, and with a solid combination of youth and veteran presence, the Raptors were well positioned for a repeat bid.
There was an air of confidence exuded by Masai Ujiri and the Raptors.
Yet, with the 2019-20 regular season approaching, the Raptors are preparing to defend their championship crown without Leonard, who opted to return home to California and play for the Los Angeles Clippers.
The way he was lured to Los Angeles was sketchy to say the least.
“I got a lot of credit, and so did Jerry West, but the guy that was the hero in all this was Lawrence Frank,” Clippers Head Cooach Doc Rivers said recently. “(Frank) did all the work. He had Steve Ballmer going to Raptors games and he went to some, too. We were warned that no more Clippers players, coaches or employees could go to games in Toronto. We were sending guys to go sit in the stands.
“There was nothing wrong with what we were doing, but Steve Ballmer sitting courtside in Toronto seemed a little strange. But we didn’t say a word. We just wanted (Leonard) to know we were there and we were interested.”
The Clippers ploy turned out to be effective, but Leonard wanted more before making a final decision.
“He comes into this meeting, and he shakes our hands, and he’s talking. We were prepared for a meeting where we would have to drag things out of him. Instead, he’s the one talking, and finally, he tells us exactly what the deal is,” team owner Steve Ballmer said, according to Sportsnet.
“He said, ‘I want to play for you,’ and he pointed at me. He said, ‘Mr. Ballmer, I love the things you do and what you stand for, but your team is not good enough, and if you don’t change your team, I’m not coming,’” he added.
As the Raptors are approach training camp, there will be a very noticeable name missing on this season’s Raptors team, but Leonard’s impact on the franchise will be felt for years to come.