Explosive Rumors on Kawhi's Free Agency with Harden-Beal Trade, Clippers, Lakers

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2019

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard speaks to reporters before a team practice in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The Raptors are scheduled to play the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

On the heels of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining forces with the Los Angeles Clippers, The Athletic came forward with several revelations regarding Kawhi's free-agency process Tuesday.

According to Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic, the Clippers inquired about trading for Houston Rockets guard James Harden and Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal before landing George. Also, Kawhi reportedly had no involvement in recruiting George to L.A.

While the Clippers are happy to have the dynamic duo of Leonard and George, sending guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the George trade was reportedly a tough pill to swallow.

Plenty worked in the Clippers' favor during free agency, but Magic Johnson's decision to go public with the information that he spoke to Kawhi about the Lakers reportedly eliminated the Lakers from contention.

Here is a further breakdown of each of those rumors from The Athletic's bombshell report.

Clippers Inquired About Harden and Beal

The Clippers were reportedly told they needed to add another star in order to land Leonard. During their search for one, they asked about the availability of both Harden and Beal.

Houston eventually doubled down on Harden by acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Thunder to play alongside him, while Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on Monday that he will offer Beal a three-year, $111 million contract extension.

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The Clippers reportedly also looked into the possibility of landing Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant. Butler was sent from the Philadelphia 76ers to the Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade, while Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

Ultimately, L.A. sent Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and the right to swap two first-round picks to the Thunder for George.

Leonard and George figure to be a good fit together since they are both two-way players who excel at both ends. They also both have experience being the go-to guy and deferring to others.

Harden and Leonard together may not have worked since Harden is so ball-dominant, while it remains to be seen if Beal can be a legitimate superstar on a top team.

In the end, things worked out for the Clippers since they are now considered one of the top championship contenders in the league.

Magic Johnson Damaged Lakers Chances of Signing Kawhi

Before making his decision in free agency, Leonard reached out to Magic to "pick his brain" about the Lakers organization.

In June, Johnson told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that someone had reached out to him to let him know that Leonard wanted to speak with him: "A friend of mine called and says Kawhi wants to meet with you. I said no problem. I'm available if that's what this man wants."

Per Buha and Amick, Leonard and his uncle, Dennis Robertson, made it clear throughout free agency that they valued discretion.

A person involved in Kawhi's free-agent process believes Johnson speaking out played a role in Leonard deciding against signing with the Lakers: "I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and Dennis, that sealed the fate of the Lakers. I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can't trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them."

Johnson resigned as the Lakers' president of basketball operations just prior to the end of the 2018-19 season, and he was critical of general manager Rob Pelinka on the way out. If Leonard values Johnson's opinion, that likely didn't help the Lakers' chances either.

Additionally, signing with the Lakers would have meant the formation of a superteam since LeBron James and Anthony Davis are already on the roster. Leonard has seemingly avoided those types of situations and thrived on beating superteams, as he led the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors to NBA Finals wins over the Heat and Golden State Warriors, respectively.

Now, Leonard will have a chance to take down LeBron, Davis and the Lakers after it seemed like there was a real chance he was going to sign with the organization.

Leonard Did Not Recruit George to L.A.

Rumors have run rampant regarding what type of role Leonard played in getting George to come to L.A., but Shams Charania of The Athletic said it is "not accurate" to think Kawhi actively recruited him.

The Clippers were reportedly told on July 3 that George wanted a trade from OKC, which set the wheels in motion for them to make a play for the six-time All-Star.

George and Westbrook reportedly "communicated their discontent" to the Thunder around the time of the draft following consecutive first-round playoff exits. That seemed to be the genesis of OKC dismantling the roster and going into rebuild mode.

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If salvaging the George-Westbrook pairing and building a roster capable of winning a championship was deemed impossible, then it is difficult to argue with the Thunder's decision to trade George considering how much they got in return.

When taking both the George and Westbrook trades into account, the Thunder have a bounty of draft picks, a potential young star in Gilgeous-Alexander and trade chips in Gallinari and Chris Paul.

As for George, he has a chance to play close to his hometown of Palmdale, California, and with a two-time NBA Finals MVP in Leonard as his running mate, he has the best opportunity of his career to vie for a championship.

Clippers Hated to Lose Gilgeous-Alexander

If there was one negative for the Clippers this offseason, it was having to make the decision to part with Gilgeous-Alexander in order to land George.

The Clippers were reportedly "heartbroken" over giving up Gilgeous-Alexander, but they had little choice since his inclusion in the George trade was "non-negotiable."

L.A. reportedly believes Gilgeous-Alexander is poised to become an All-Star after he was chosen as an All-Rookie Second Team selection last season.

Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game as a rookie for a Clippers team that reached the playoffs. He will now have a chance to blossom for a Thunder team that is entering a rebuild.

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For now, Gilgeous-Alexander is teammates with Paul, which means he can learn from an all-time great point guard.

Once the Thunder find a suitable trade partner for Paul or feel Gilgeous-Alexander is ready to take the keys on a full-time basis, they figure to unleash him and give him all the playing time he can handle.

It may hurt Clippers fans and executives to see Gilgeous-Alexander thrive elsewhere, but if acquiring George helps the organization win its first NBA championship, it will be well worth it.

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