As a player, Magic Johnson helped sustain the Lakers' dynasty. But as Los Angeles tries to climb their way back to the top of the league, Johnson might have turned himself into a hindrance rather than an asset.
"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," a source told The Athletic. "I think right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided they couldn't trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them."
Unlike most of this year's free agents, Kawhi didn't jump out the gate and sign a deal within hours of the market opening. Instead, Leonard took his time to narrow down his suitors. He then scheduled official meetings with three teams, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the incumbent Toronto Raptors. While his moves came with heavy speculation, those close to the teams claim that Kawhi and his camp swore them to secrecy. And any breach of this wall of silence would disqualify them from the running.
"If you fuck this up you're done, you're out," an executive explained to The Athletic. "They didn't say that, but that was the message. It was basically, 'Look we appreciate your discretion.' Which means, 'Keep your fucking mouth shut.'"
Injuries, front office scandals, and botched trade packages led to a tumultuous year for the Lakers. As a result, Kawhi decided to hold a separate meeting outside of the Lakers' official pitch with owner Jeanie Buss and Magic Johnson. After receiving the invite, Johnson revealed to several publications that Kawhi had requested to meet with him despite being given strict orders to keep the dealings under wraps. These antics seemed to have severed Kawhi's already frayed trust in the organization leading him to move forward with the Clippers.
But the gag order has been lifted now that Kawhi is locked in with the Clippers. This has led one executive to disclose that the Clippers were looking at several potential partners for Kawhi before settling on Paul George. This includes the Wizards' Bradley Beal and former-MVP James Harden, both of whom the Lakers reportedly tried to trade for. Leonard was also intensely interested in pairing with Jimmy Butler. According to The Athletic, Kawhi thought they could be a dominant two-way duo. But, Butler was already focused on Miami and they couldn't snag him away from the Heat.