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For much of the season, the buzz around the league was that Kawhi Leonard‘s choice as a free agent in 2019 was a binary one: Come to the Los Angeles Clippers, or stay with the Toronto Raptors. Other teams tried to pretend they were in the mix — the Lakers, the Knicks — but sources said that was never reality, this was a two-team race.
However, the Clippers are watching the Finals, too. They see it — Leonard dominating and leading the Raptors to the brink of an NBA title. With that, the Clippers’ confidence is fading and they are looking more at Plan B options, reports Joe Varden of The Athletic.
The Clippers, those sources said, feel confident Leonard will answer the phone when they call on June 30, but beyond that there is no way to know what impact Leonard’s Finals run will have. Those sources said the Clippers spend most of their time in meetings preparing for scenarios in which he doesn’t come to L.A.
The Clippers under Lawrence Frank are the kind of organization that would have been thinking about Plan B already anyway. Like all smart organizations (and even some of the not-so-smart ones) they try to map out every potential scenario in advance, to thoroughly assess their options, so they are not caught by surprise. The Clippers have other options, from Kevin Durant (although the Knicks are still considered the frontrunner they by most around the league) to jumping into trade talks for stars. The Clippers will still be big players this summer, this is an organization with a good reputation around the league with players now.
But they understand the landscape is changing.
Leonard, for the record, told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that he is not thinking about free agency until after the season. As you expect him (and Durant) to say.
“You know what you want. But I’m not thinking, like… just because of this and this I’m gonna re-sign. I’m not even thinking about signing or what team I’m gonna go to, free agency, none of that. I’m just focused on what’s in front of me right now. And then, you know, once it’s over then I’ll revisit everything.”
Nobody knows what Leonard wants exactly, or what he will do, but there’s a growing sense he will sign short term — two years, or a one-plus-one — to stay in Toronto. If so, the Clippers will be prepared for whatever is next.