Kobe Bryant: Kawhi Leonard Wanted 'Challenge' of Winning Without LeBron James

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2019

SAN ANTONIO,TX - FEBRUARY 6:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers guards Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs at AT&T Center on February 6, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant believes Kawhi Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers rather than the Lakers was a result of Kawhi wanting to challenge himself.

According to Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant suggested that Leonard wanted to carve his own path rather than form a superteam with LeBron James and Anthony Davis:

"I'm sure Kawhi wants to take the challenge of winning independent of playing with LeBron. Maybe that was the same for [Paul George]. I think they relish the challenge of taking on something new. I don't think it was a slight at the Lakers. It was more about circumstances and what was already here in L.A. and on the Lakers, and they wanted to take the challenge of building something new."

By joining the Clippers along with George, Kawhi helped create another championship contender in the Western Conference, and he gives the Clips perhaps the best chance in franchise history to win a title.

Although Leonard's decision split the balance of power in L.A., Bryant feels Lakers fans should be thrilled with the team general manager Rob Pelinka has put together: "But the Lakers did OK. I saw a lot of Lakers fans were very disappointed, and rightfully so, that they didn't get Kawhi. But you did get Anthony Davis. The Lakers have two freaks of nature. They're going to be fine. It's a hell of a time to be in L.A."

Missing out on Kawhi allowed the Lakers to add some depth to their roster, which may not have necessarily been possible if they were committing so much money to their top three players.

In addition to returning players like Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers added guards Danny Green, Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley and Troy Daniels, forward Jared Dudley and center Dwight Howard.

With James and Davis leading the way and plenty of quality shooters and role players surrounding them, the Lakers should end their six-year playoff drought this season at the very least.

Making the playoffs hasn't been an issue for the Clippers, as they have played postseason basketball in seven of the past eight campaigns. The Clips did not advance past the second round in any of those seasons, however.

The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin had lofty expectations but never quite lived up to them. The expectations are even higher for the Clippers this season, though, since Leonard is coming off an NBA Finals MVP performance for the Toronto Raptors, and George finished third in the NBA MVP voting last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Also, the Clippers have some solid pieces around Leonard and George, including guards Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet, forward Montrezl Harrell and center Ivica Zubac.

Both the Lakers and Clippers have assembled rosters that look like they are capable of going the distance on paper, and that should be a good thing for the NBA after five years of pure dominance by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference.

The first step toward determining which team will rule L.A. this season will be taken Tuesday night when the Lakers and Clippers clash in a season-opening game at Staples Center.

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