Kawhi Leonard reportedly had a “positive” phone call with Magic Johnson on Sunday to talk about the Los Angeles Lakers as a potential free agency destination, and it sounds like the top free agent on the market was able to gather some promising information covering what he wants to know about the team.
During an appearance on Spectrum Sportsnet, Broderick Turner of The L.A. Times laid out some of the details of that conversation, including that Leonard’s camp has spoken with Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, who may or may not be included in the Lakers’ official free agent pitch meeting with Leonard:
“The first thing that I’ll start with is that Kawhi and his uncle, Uncle Dennis, they talked to Magic several times. They’ve also talked with Rob Pelinka. They want to meet with Jeanie Buss and Magic. Magic can’t meet with them when Jeanie is in the room, or if Rob Pelinka is also invited… The NBA rules are kind of stipulating that you can bring anyone with that’s a non-employee, but because Magic worked for the Lakers, because they’ve been hit with tampering fines (he can’t be in there with them).”
Turner also provided the first details we’ve gotten to this point regarding what specifically Leonard and his camp wanted to learn from their conversation with Johnson:
“There was one interesting question (Leonard) had for Magic: ‘Did you guys try to trade for me when I was in San Antonio?’ And the answer was ‘yes, but because it was Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, and our history, they were asking for 2,000 draft picks — well, not 2,000 — like four draft picks, first-round draft picks, and we just couldn’t do that.’ And that was one of his questions.
“The uncle’s questions were ‘what’s really going on in the organization between you, Jeanie, Rob Pelinka, everyone? Is it as dysfunctional as we’re reading and hearing?’ And the response was ‘we had some issues, but we’re past that. I’m past that. We’re still a family, such as you fight with your brothers and sisters sometimes, well, I had somewhat of a disagreement with my sister. And Rob Pelinka, yes, I said he was a back-stabber, but that happened then. Now I want the Lakers to be a championship team. Having Kawhi here would do that.
“‘You can play for them because it’s not about me, it’s not about Jeanie, it’s really about this franchise. It’s about Kareem. Wilt Chamberlain. Kobe Bryant. It’s about all those great players. You can be another one, you can join LeBron James and you can win more titles, and you don’t have to put as much stress on your body to do that. We have two stars to work with you.’”
And speaking of reducing Leonard’s load and managing his health, according to Turner, Leonard also wanted to know if he was going to be able to have some say over who the Lakers hired to take care of that and his other needs. It seems like the team is amenable to such an arrangement:
“LeBron James was able to bring on his own trainer, his own medical people. (Kawhi) wants to know if he can do that as well. LeBron James brought on some people that weren’t with the Lakers, and he wants to know ‘can I bring with a couple of my guys?’ … And as far as I know, the Lakers would be willing to do that, because you do those things for superstar players.”
For clarity, long-time James trainer Mike Mancias was brought on by the team last year as their athletic trainer and athletic performance liaison, and functionally serves as James’ personal medical staff. Another James confidant, Randy Mims, followed him to L.A. from the Cleveland Cavaliers to serve as the Lakers’ Executive Administrator of Player Programs and Logistics.
It’s unknown who exactly Leonard would want to bring with him — maybe former Lakers employee and current Raptors director of sports science, Alex McKechnie, who has been widely credited with keeping Leonard healthy? — but it seems he has a few people in mind, and it sounds like the team is open to that input.
In summary, though, it sounds like Leonard’s concerns so far have been mostly addressed. The deal may not be done done, but this is just the latest sign pointing towards the Lakers being in the driver’s seat to add the two-time NBA Finals MVP. We’ll see if they can answer all of his questions satisfactorily and close the deal on assembling the best big three the NBA has ever seen over the days to come, but for now, they at least appear to be on the right track.