Kawhi Leonard Didn't Know Who Lawrence Frank Was When Meeting Clippers Exec

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2018

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard warms up before facing the Denver Nuggets in the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

It's pretty well-established at this point that the Los Angeles Clippers intend to be major players in free agency this summer, and Toronto Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard is one of the players in their sights. 

So when the president of basketball operations for the Clippers, Lawrence Frank, was greeting players and coaches alike from both teams after the Clippers played the Raptors last Tuesday, a greeting between he and Leonard might have been expected. Instead, when Leonard entered the tunnel and headed toward the team bus, he walked right past Frank without acknowledging him.

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, that was because Leonard didn't know who Frank was:

"There was nothing rude about the moment, but it was clear there was no familiarity between the two. Yet the notion that they didn’t know each other would surely be met with understandable skepticism, so there was more work to be done to confirm the meaning of these social graces—or lack thereof.

"A day later in Oakland, where the Raptors had gone to face Golden State, I circled back with Leonard to make sure I read the situation right. Sure enough, as he confirmed, he didn't know the man who had been standing there when we said hello.

"'No, who was it?' he asked.

"'Lawrence Frank, the head of the Clippers’ front office,' I replied.

"'Oh, that was Lawrence Frank?' he said with a smile (and no, to answer the obvious question, he didn't share one of his legendary laughs).

"Better yet? Leonard said he was completely unaware that Clippers officials had been attending his games with his uncertain future in mind."

The Clippers won't be alone in their pursuit of Leonard. In what could be an incredibly star-studded free-agency class—Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton, among others, could hit the open market—Leonard will nonetheless be one of the top prizes available. 

The 27-year-old forward is having an MVP-caliber season after missing most of the 2017-18 campaign and before forcing a trade out of San Antonio, averaging 26.3 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three.

He's also one of the league's most dominant defensive players, often smothering an opponent's top scoring threat. 

So yes, a team like the Clippers should be fully committed to landing Leonard. At the moment, the Clippers have $48.7 million in practical cap space for the summer, enough to get at least one superstar free agent, but they will have options for clearing more space. Namely, the team can waive Avery Bradley and his partially guaranteed contract, freeing up another $11 million in cap space and bringing them close to $60 million overall.

According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, the team has sent executives to numerous Raptors and Warriors games, ostensibly scouting Leonard and Durant. And even if the Clippers can only land one of those players, they can use another max slot on Tobias Harris and bring a superstar into the fold on a team that has surprisingly started 17-12 and looks primed to make a run at a postseason berth.

One advantage the Clippers will have in their pursuit of Leonard is that it has long been rumored that the Raptors star wants to play in Los Angeles, where he grew up, and isn't particularly fond of the cold. And while it might seem like a bad sign for the Clippers that Leonard doesn't even know who Frank is, he's always marched to the beat of his own drum.

Leonard has been described as aloof, isn't particularly great at marketing himself and has acknowledged that he doesn't have social media. If ever there were a star player who wouldn't know a prominent member of a another team's front office, it would be Leonard. It's simply his personality. 

The Raptors can offer a better roster than the Clippers. The Lakers will offer prestige and the chance to play next to LeBron James. Other teams will make strong pitches. But the Clippers can offer the chance to return home and be the franchise cornerstone. Leonard may not be familiar with Frank at the moment, but come this summer he will be, whatever he ultimately decides.