Did Kawhi Leonard ruin the Lakers backup plan, if he chooses the Toronto Raptors?

Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As Kawhi Leonard waits to make his decision, the free agent pool gets smaller and smaller. If Kawhi chooses the Toronto Raptors, did he ruin the Lakers backup plans?

The Los Angeles Lakers are all-in on Kawhi Leonard. They’ve waited and largely let free agency pass them by, as they focus on the best player available. The only problem they face — the possibility of Kawhi returning to the Toronto Raptors.

If Kawhi joins the Lakers, everything should work out great for the purple and gold. LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Anthony Davis are three of the top seven players in the NBA. With them, the Lakers become the unquestionable favorite. In this league, you find the top guys and figure the rest out later.

Rob Pelinka and company are already working the phones, lining up potential minimum contracts to pair alongside this dynamic trio. They’ll have a focus on defense and three-point shooting above anything else; Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels have already agreed to minimum deals.

But if he doesn’t choose the Lakers, things get a little trickier out in California. Kawhi Leonard is waiting to make his decision, while other free agents lock-in elsewhere. If Leonard returns to the Toronto Raptors, L.A. might be left with few other options.

Who they missed out on

We don’t know if another star would have joined the Lakers. At this point, it’s fair to assume they wouldn’t have gotten anyone from their top-tier of choices —Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, or Klay Thompson. But did they pass up on their second tier with the hopes of receiving Leonard?

Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, Al Horford, and D’Angelo Russell have all signed elsewhere. The best remaining player on the market besides Kawhi is Danny Green. The Lakers ability to form a  “Big Three”,  begins and ends with Kawhi Leonard.

Surrounding Davis and James with role players isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, some might say that adding depth pieces is a better option than adding a second-tier star like Butler or Walker.

However, Kawhi’s timeline has forced them to miss out on many of those pieces as well.  Brook Lopez, JJ Redick, Patrick Beverley, Thaddeus Young, and tons of other non-minimum contracts have already signed. Those players couldn’t afford to watch their market potentially dry up if the Lakers didn’t have space. They had to move on, regardless of Leonard’s decision.

Who’s still available

Of course, not everybody has signed. There are still a few notable free agents on the board if the Lakers whiff on Leonard. Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marcus Morris are the top three players still available.

But who’s to say the Lakers will attract those players? The Raptors and Mavericks are both pursuing Danny Green. Cousins should receive offers from both the Clippers and Lakers if Leonard returns. The same goes for Morris.

Even if the Lakers are able to sign some combination of the trio, they’ll likely need to overpay, and almost certainly won’t get all three.

That leaves the Lakers scrounging the bargain bin for 4th and 5th starters to pair alongside Davis and James. They won’t be missing the playoffs again with two generational talents on the roster, but they won’t be title favorites either.

Lebron can’t blame him

Kawhi Leonard is taking his time and making the decision best for himself. If anyone is going to blame him, it certainly can’t be LeBron James.

James waited until July 8th to publicly announce to the Cavaliers that he would be taking his talents to South Beach. When he left Miami, James didn’t announce until July 11th that he was returning home. When it comes to the free agency, James does not move on anyone’s clock but his own.

And that’s fine! It’s a major life decision. James earned the right to make those decisions at his own pace and so has Kawhi. But it is frustrating to be on the other side of those decisions. Now, LeBron is most likely feeling those frustrations.

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Kawhi Leonard has the right to make his decision on his own time, even if the suspense is killing everyone involved. Functionally, his waiting isn’t impacting the Raptors much. But if he chooses to stay in Toronto, he might have delivered a critical blow to the Lakers roster.