LOS ANGELES—As the Knicks’ disappointing off-season unfolded, a report surfaced that its front office cancelled a free-agency meeting with Kawhi Leonard because they feared missing out on their group of signings, specifically Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Elfrid Payton.
Leonard’s connection to the Knicks was largely based around team president Steve Mills’ relationship with Leonard’s uncle, and there was a continued push of the idea that the NBA Finals MVP was at least intrigued by New York. But on Saturday, Leonard denied any interest in the Knicks.
“I never said I was considering going to the Knicks,” said Leonard, whose Clippers host the Knicks on Sunday afternoon. “Everybody knows where I wanted to go when I requested a trade, so I don’t where that came from.”
So, were the reports true?
“No,” Leonard said.
Leonard was referencing his desire to play for the Lakers or Clippers when he asked for a trade from the Spurs. He ultimately signed with the Clippers on a three-year, $ 103-million (U.S.) contract. Asked if a meeting was ever scheduled with the Knicks, Leonard responded, “Not that I’m aware of.”
Leonard’s comments lend credence to the theory that leaking was a form of saving face after striking out on the top targets. The same goes for a report during free agency that the Knicks weren’t willing to offer Kevin Durant a max contract, just in case Durant gave them a chance to make an offer — which he didn’t.
In Leonard’s instance, the Knicks supposedly cancelled a meeting that Leonard contends was never scheduled. The last time Mills spoke in September, he never addressed specific targets, but said he declined to meet with top-tier free agents.
“There were a lot of max-type players we could have met with, that were interested in coming here,” Mills said. “We had a certain way we wanted to build this team, and this is how we chose to build it.”
Other top free agents included Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson and Tobias Harris.
Leonard is again playing at an all-NBA level this season with the Clippers (25-12), who were blown out at home Saturday afternoon by the Grizzlies. It’s unclear whether Leonard, who dropped 24 points Saturday, will play Sunday against the Knicks because he often sits out one of the back-to-back games.
He was disappointing in L.A.’s effort against Memphis.
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“We had a lot of wakeup calls. I feel like it’s the middle of the season and a lot of the mistakes that we’re making we shouldn’t make at this time,” he said. “And we’re going to keep getting better. I feel like guys want to win and get better.”
Paul George, who sat out Saturday with a tight hamstring, could return against the Knicks.