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Clippers deny tampering; Kawhi Leonard denies begrudging Magic Johnson leak, sabotaging Lakers


US basketball player Kawhi Leonard speaks during a press conference introducing Leonard and Paul George as new players on the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles on July 24, 2019. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

AFP/Getty Images

Did the Clippers tamper with Kawhi Leonard while he was still playing for the Raptors?

Did Leonard reject the Lakers because details of his meeting with Magic Johnson leaked?

Did Leonard play the Lakers by waiting a week to announce his decision, letting other good free agents commit elsewhere then going to the Clippers?

All alleged… all denied.

Clippers president Lawrence Frank on tampering, via Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

“We didn’t recruit,” Frank said. “We went to many [of Leonard’s] games to scout and research. We never had a conversation with Kawhi or with any of his people. We always felt by doing it out in front that we were being very, very transparent. We know the rules. We follow the rules. With how Steve does business, his integrity is number one. We are always going to be above the line.”

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Leonard on whether the leaks from his conversation with Magic Johnson bothered him:

No. It wasn’t an issue of whatever anyone has to say that’s true. That’s not a reason why I didn’t sign with the Lakers. The conversation was transparent, what I had with Magic. As long as me and him or who talked during the conversation was fair and truthful, I don’t have too much to say about it.

Leonard on playing other teams, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“If they didn’t want to wait for me, they didn’t have to,” the two-time NBA Finals MVP told Yahoo Sports in an exclusive interview after the introductory press conference. “They had a big opportunity to sign me. [The Lakers] were close, but I ended up on the other side.”
“I didn’t lead anyone on,” Leonard told Yahoo Sports. “I took my time in free agency, as I should, to make sure I made the best decision for myself and my family. I feel like some of the media coverage over it made it feel that way, with people saying I’m signing with Toronto 99 percent or I’m going to the Lakers 99 percent. I don’t ever want to have that bad karma come back on me trying to make the Lakers miss out on players they should have gotten or vice-versa with the Raptors.”

File all this under: What else are they supposed to say?

Of course, Frank isn’t going to admit to tampering. The Clippers got fined once for it, when Doc Rivers publicly compared Leonard to Michael Jordan. Frank isn’t going to invite more punishment. The NBA is reportedly investigating tampering throughout the league.

Leonard is famously private. Teams were reportedly even warned not to leak during his free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised if his alarm bells went off when details of his meeting with Johnson leaked. The Lakers let plenty get out. But publicly blaming Johnson for the Lakers not getting Leonard? I don’t think Leonard wants to put that heat on a respected all-time great player – whether or not Johnson actually deterred Leonard from signing with the Lakers.

As for Leonard playing the Lakers, this is the denial I most strongly believe. It just doesn’t seem like something he’d do. As he said, they chose to wait for him. He couldn’t force them to do that. But if Leonard delayed to play the Lakers, it’d look a lot like what actually happened. I can’t rule it out.

Best I can tell, nobody publicly denied charges of salary-cap circumvention. But the league is investigating that, too.