A trade to the Toronto Raptors didn't mark the end of the rumors surrounding Kawhi Leonard's future. It just kicked them into overdrive.
Leonard grew up in Southern California, so many have linked him to signing with the Lakers in free agency next summer. Despite reports to the contrary, ESPN's Ramona Shelburne insisted that Leonard was still interested in joining the Lakers before the San Antonio Spurs traded him to Toronto.
"I've had several people say the whole 'Laker mystique' doesn't hold any appeal for Kawhi," Shelburne said Friday on ESPN LA 710. "That's not why he wanted to be with the Lakers. He wanted to be with the Lakers because they were closer to winning. Then they went out and got LeBron [James], and several people [close to Kawhi] said, 'He's not gonna like that. He's not gonna wanna play in his shadow.' But the people I actually trust in terms of [mattering] in his decision-making, they said, 'No, he still wants to be with the Lakers because they're closer to winning.'"
Shelburne added that she's not sure where Leonard stands after joining the Raptors. A lot can change between now and next summer, but Shelburne believes Leonard prefers the Clippers, then the Raptors, to joining the Lakers.
In July, ESPN's Michael C. Wright said on the podcast "Back to Back" that the Clippers were Leonard's top choice. Jalen Rose said on ESPN's "Get Up" this week that Leonard does not want to play in LeBron James' shadow.
That may not be enough smoke for you, but the Clippers seem to think there's fire.
"The Clippers are doing everything they can, right now, to get ready to make this pitch to Kawhi Leonard and some of the other big-time free agents next summer," Shelburne said. "Their entire organizational strategy is built towards positioning themselves [for Leonard]."
The Warriors, and every other Western Conference team outside of the two in Los Angeles, would surely prefer if Leonard falls in love with Toronto.