Doc Rivers Talks Clippers' Recruitment of Kawhi Leonard, Trade for Paul George

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2019

Kawhi Leonard, left, and Paul George pose with their new team jerseys during a press conference in Los Angeles, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. Nearly three weeks after the native Southern California superstars shook up the NBA by teaming up with the Los Angeles Clippers, the dynamic duo makes its first public appearance. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

Just a few months after pulling off the major coup of signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers discussed how the scenario came together Thursday.

In an interview with Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times, Rivers noted that the Oklahoma City Thunder originally rejected the Clippers' trade offer for George, which nearly led to Leonard returning to the Toronto Raptors or signing with the Los Angeles Lakers:

"The day of the trade at 12 noon the deal was off. I was at home in Malibu and [Clippers President of Basketball Operations] Lawrence [Frank] called me and told me, 'It looks like he's either going to Toronto or the Lakers.' The Lakers part just threw me over. I told him that can't happen. ... I remember I kept telling him, 'We cannot allow that to happen!' I actually told [Clippers owner] Steve [Ballmer] jokingly that if that happens, we're moving the team to Seattle. It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that."

After attempts to acquire George were revived and killed on numerous occasions, the Clippers finally managed to land him for guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers' first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, the Miami Heat's first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 and the right to swap first-round picks in 2023 and 2025.

With that, Leonard was on board and signed a three-year deal with the Clips.

When the Clippers' brass first met with Leonard at Rivers' home in Malibu, California, Rivers recalls that he had interest in playing for the franchise but not as it was constructed at that time: "He said, 'I want to play for you' and he pointed at me. He said, 'Mr. Ballmer, I love the things you do and what you stand for, but your team is not good enough and if you don't change your team, I'm not coming.'"

That led to the Clippers presenting Leonard with a list of potential trade targets, but Rivers said there was only one player he wanted to join forces with: "We just showed him guys that we thought would match him and when he saw Paul George's name he said, 'I want to play with him.' We showed him everybody else and he didn't want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George."

While returning to Toronto was viewed as a possibility for Leonard since he won a championship with the Raptors last season, Kawhi has long been linked to L.A. since he is from Riverside, California.

The Lakers were in the mix, especially since he could have teamed up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but Rivers felt Leonard gave off signs that he preferred to join the Clippers: "The Lakers had a meeting with Kawhi and they built this whole thing up for him to come to their new practice facility and he said, 'No, you can come to my hotel room.' But with us he said, 'Yes, I'll come to your house.' It felt like he was telling us he wants to come here."

Now, the Clippers are one of the top championship contenders in the NBA along with the Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

In Leonard, the Clips have a two-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who has bested both LeBron and the dynastic Golden State Warriors in the Finals.

George doesn't have the same championship resume as Leonard, but he is a two-way stud who has been named to the All-Defensive Team four times and All-Star Game six times.

Also, George enjoyed a career year in 2018-19, as he averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game en route to finishing third in the NBA MVP voting.

With Leonard and George joining Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, and a championship-winning coach in Rivers leading the way, the Clippers have their best chance yet to finally bring home a title.

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