Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Kawhi Leonard happy to keep teams waiting

This is Kawhi Leonard’s world and we’re just waiting for him to decide.

It’s day three of NBA free agency. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have landed in Brooklyn. Jimmy Butler is taking his game to South Beach.

Twenty-nine of the top 40 NBA free agents this season have decided where they will play next week. Meanwhile, Toronto and Los Angeles wait to find out where Leonard will land.

He grew up in Riverside a huge fan of the Lakers. For the last year or more, the Clippers have been in his ear, telling him the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles now and his best chance of winning more championships lies with them.

Then the unbelievable happened and Leonard led his Toronto Raptors team to the NBA championship. He could return there for one triumphant season and then do this again next year.

LeBron James would love the spotlight. So would Kevin Durant and most of the other multimillionaire superstars that populate the NBA. But Leonard has never been one of those players.

He came up with the San Antonio Spurs and bought into the team culture: championships came with individual sacrifice. Like Tim Duncan before him, Leonard was happy to stay in the shadows. Let coach Greg Popovich take the credit. Or point guard Tony Parker.

Leonard was overlooked in high school and ended up a star at San Diego State. The NBA overlooked him at first, letting the Spurs draft him, polish him up and turn him loose on the league.

Now he has two championship rings, two trophies as the most valuable player of the NBA Finals and can choose where he wants to play.

By the time you read this, Leonard probably will have made his decision. Since July 1, most experts have predicted he will sign with the Lakers. Let LeBron James and Anthony Davis get the headlines, just make sure he gets the ball down the stretch in close games.

The Lakers will make the playoffs again after six seasons on the outside looking in; they might add another championship banner, even if A.J. Green, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Norm Nixon have to come off the bench to fill out the roster because all of the Lakers payroll is going to James, Davis and Leonard.

The big losers in this are the Clippers, who thought they had a chance to steal Leonard away from the Lakers because they are the best team in L.A. now. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t matter.

Leonard never sat in his living room as a boy dreaming he was playing for the Clippers. He isn’t ready to make that switch now.

The Toronto Raptors? They always will have the spring of 2019 to make them smile. Kind of like Joe Carter’s home run in 1993.

A CLIPPER KEEPER: If Kawhi Leonard doesn’t sign with the Clippers, they still scored a free agency victory when guard Patrick Beverley agreed to a three-year deal worth $40 million July 1.

Beverley brings an attitude to the game that his teammates feed off. He can operate the offense, put some points on the board and his defensive intensity allows him to cover three of the five players on the floor at any given time.

The Clippers also acquired forward Maurice Harkless as part of a four-way deal between Miami, Portland and Philadelphia. Harkless played for Portland last season. He’s a seven-point, four-rebound a game type player who might improve those numbers if given a chance to play more.

Unfortunately, if he starts, it will be another reminder that Leonard decided to play somewhere else.

HEADING TO THE BREAK: The Dodgers are treading water, trying to get to the all-star break which arrives July 8. Manager Dave Roberts will be taking Cody Bellinger and three starting pitchers — Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu — with him to the all-star game, not a very large contingent for a team that has been to the World Series two years in a row and has been dominating the National League for most of the first half of the season.

Max Muncy should have joined his four teammates on the all star roster but Muncy is a victim of his utility status. He began the season as the regular first baseman, but with Kike Hernandez slumping at the plate, Muncy has found himself at second base more often than at first.

No matter where he plays, Muncy hits. He has 20 home runs and 58 runs batted in while playing in 83 of 86 games. Only Bellinger has provided more offense for the Dodgers this season.

Hitting and starting pitching has been carrying the Dodgers. Four players already are in double figures in home runs. Bellinger has 27 homers and Muncy and Joc Pederson both have 20. Hernandez has 13 homers, even if he is only hitting .215.

The Dodgers will easily have nine players in double figures in home runs by the end of the season. Justin Turner and Alex Verdugo already have nine and Dave Freeze, Chris Taylor and Corey Seager all have eight with three more months to play.

The five best starters — adding Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill to the three all stars — have combined for a 35-10 record so far this season.

The rest of the staff is 22-19, which shows that the spotty bullpen is kept hidden by the Dodgers offense, which is going to outhit most teams on a day-to-day basis.

ANOTHER ANGEL TRAGEDY: No one should die at 27, especially someone who was living his dream as a Major League Baseball player, who had just got married last December and had so much of life to look forward to.

We still don’t know what killed Tyler Skaggs, the Angels left-handed starter who was found dead in his hotel room in Southlake, Texas, July 1.

Skaggs was a Southern California boy who grew up in Santa Monica, was drafted by the Angels only to be traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade in 2010.

The Angels reacquired him in 2014, but he missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery and was trying to build back up to his potential ever since.

The Angels have had more than their share of tragedies over the years. Nick Adenhart, a 22-year-old pitching sensation was killed in a car accident in 2009 just as he was coming into his own. In 1978, Lyman Bostock, who was in his first year with the Angels, was killed when he was shot while sitting in the back seat of a car in Gary, Indiana, ending a promising career.

The year before that, a shortstop prospect named Mike Miley was killed in a car accident.