Earlier this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder sent the Los Angeles Clippers a list of players available in a trade. And the list proved to be the key to landing marquee free agent Kawhi Leonard, coach Doc Rivers said.
“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,’” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times.
The Clippers signed Leonard and traded for George, announcing the transactions on July 5. The Clippers sent the Thunder four future unprotected first-round picks and one protected first-round pick, and the teams agreed to two pick swaps.
“We showed him everybody else, and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George,” Rivers told the Times about Leonard. “So after the meeting we sat down and I said, ‘We got to get Paul George. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we have to do it.’ We did know that Oklahoma City wanted to break their team up, so that helped. But we didn’t know if we could get him.”
Leonard, who lead the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever NBA championship in June, drive a hard bargain in other ways, too. He told Rivers and team owner Steve Ballmer that he wanted to see a commitment to improvement throughout the franchise, from players to facilities.
“Kawhi said, ‘I want to play for you.’ And he pointed at me,” Rivers told the Times. “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.’”
Leonard signed a three-year, $103.14 million deal with the Clippers with a player option for 2021-22, in July.
Since then, the Clippers unveiled their plans to build an arena and team facilities on 26 acres in Inglewood, Calif., where the NFL’s Rams and Chargers will play beginning in 2020. The $1 billion-plus, privately financed proposed stadium also includes an outside fan area, similar to Toronto’s Jurassic Park. The Clippers announced a $100 million investment in community programs to benefit area residents last week.