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  • LeBron James and the Lakers didn't land Kawhi Leonard this summer. In fact, the Finals MVP decided to join the Clippers and play for the other team in L.A. Why haven't the Lakers picked up big fish in recent years?
By Andrew Sharp
July 06, 2019

For a second straight year, LeBron James and the Lakers missed out on major free agents. Sure, they added Anthony Davis via trade, but when the summer sweepstakes kicked off they missed out on Kawhi Leonard, who instead joined the the Clippers with Paul George in tow. Why hasn't LeBron, who helped engineer Miami's Big 3 and spark this era of player movement, been able to successfully recruit? Andrew Sharp and The Washington Post's Ben Golliver consider this question and the current Lakers roster on the latest episode of the Open Floor podcast

(Listen to the latest Open Floor podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)


Golliver: So lets talk about them. We hinted at it earlier, we don't often refer to him as a loser. LeBron James is a big loser here, right? 

Sharp: He is, and you know what? I don't feel great about trending in that direction. I tweeted earlier: "Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both wanted to be in LA, but not with LeBron." 

Golliver: Facts. 

Sharp: I threw a little dot, dot, dot at the end, which made it a little takier. But that now has 600 retweets, 2,000 likes. And I didn't want it to be that kind of viral take. It's very similar to something Skip Bayless said, apparently. Not proud of it at all, but facts are facts. 

Golliver: It's true. Paul George didn't even give them a meeting, he re-signed with Oklahoma City at a time when really it did not make sense for him to re-sign. You look at this situation, if LeBron James was as good of a recruiter as we kind of thought he was, if he was the power broker that we've built him up to be at times over these last couple of years in terms of having Rich Paul play every single angle, being able to get Anthony Davis, leveraging a franchise where Rob Pelinka's taking all of this potential risk to get to lay the groundwork to get a Kawhi Leonard deal. He gets this done. Whatever the pitch that needed to be made to Kawhi Leonard, he's the one who would make it. The title is sitting there waiting for them to go get if they're all together, right?

And bottom line, he wasn't able to make that connection. I wonder if there's concerns from other parties about whether it's his age, style of play, the amount of attention. I think you joked about the Instagram stuff, about whether there would be a personality conflict between him and Kawhi Leonard. There was multiple years there where nobody wanted to challenge LeBron. His fellow players wouldn't even say a negative word about him. Everybody was kind of on message for years and years. Kawhi Leonard just sent a huge message here. He said, 'No only do I not want to team up with LeBron, I want to steal Los Angeles from LeBron and I think I can do it.'

Sharp: Yeah, absolutely, and this goes back to something I saw tweeted by a guy named David Zavac. He's a Cavs writer, and he wrote earlier today, "The gap between what NBA twitter thought of the Kyrie-LeBron stuff and what NBA players under the age of 30 thought of the Kyrie-LeBron stuff continues to impact the league and how we miss coverage of things impacting the league." I actually think that is a very, very smart and perceptive point when we think about LeBron. 

Golliver: Are you 100 percent right now in this moment sure the Lakers make the playoffs? 

Sharp: I am sure. 

Golliver: 100 percent sure? 

Sharp: Yeah... 

Golliver: I don't know, man. 

Sharp: I think that they'll find a way, but I need the free-agency news for the Lakers to just slow down right now because it just gets darker with each new development. But do you know what I mean? And do you know what David meant with that LeBron-Kyrie point? Because I think that is true. I think a lot of players around the league identified with Kyrie's frustrations with LeBron and would worry about that with another potential partnership with LeBron. And I think AD is kind of in his own category because he's a Klutch guy and they're interests are kind of intermingled in a way that is unique.

But I don't necessarily blame someone like Paul George or someone like Kawhi Leonard for saying, "I don't know if I want to be part of this situation where you're going to get all the credit, there's going to be drama every month and it's just going to be a lot of trouble and potentially more trouble than it's worth." 

Golliver: A couple of weeks ago we were kind of breaking down what the Lakers would look like if they got Kawhi Leonard, and I think one of the stumbling blocks we pointed out was the dynamic between LeBron and Kawhi on the court and off the court. Who gets the ball in the fourth quarter? Who gets the most touches? Who's going to sacrifice for whom? And I think at one point I asked you, "Is LeBron really at the stage in his career where he's ready to take a backseat? Where he's actually willing to admit that he's going to transition into a different role?" And I think that you just started laughing. And you kind of shot it down. There was ways that we could talk ourselves into that, but if you're Kawhi Leonard you need to know that for a fact if you're going to go play with him, right? You need to be convinced that you're going to go be the man. 

Sharp: And it's hard because I think LeBron is in the stage of his career where he recognized he should be passing the torch and he wants to pass the torch and he's saying the right things, but I understand anybody who looks at the last five years of his career and says, "Ok, so you say one thing in July and then by the time it's January or February it's a little bit of a different story," and proceeds with a little more caution than we would've seen when LeBron was like 27 years old and he was unquestionably the best player on the planet.

And now the story is a little bit more complicated, and it's not even a shot at LeBron calling him unlikeable or this or that. The fact is LeBron's going to be 35 years old and he's almost 10 years older than Kawhi Leonard. It's a completely different generation so it'd actually be crazier if he were able to successfully recruit all these guys who were literally in middle school when he was entering the NBA and beginning to win MVPs every year.

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