Very few knew it was happening. Not a single analyst made even the slightest mention of it. But from the very beginning of free agency, Kawhi Leonard had one plan and one plan only: Get another big name to join him on the Clippers.
He tried Kevin Durant, even though the two didn’t know each other well. And while KD was flattered, he stuck to his original plan to join Kyrie Irving on the Nets.
With KD off the board, Kawhi set his sights on Paul George. And he made that known during his first meeting with the Clippers.
Leonard’s ambition in trying to recruit Durant to the Clippers suggested he was serious about joining LA in free agency. But it also suggested that they needed to get him another star.
After the Clippers met with Leonard for approximately three hours at head coach Doc Rivers’ house in Malibu on Monday night, both sides went to work to make that happen. At the same time he was meeting with the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors this week, Leonard was meeting, calling and texting with George, trying to convince him to find a way out of Oklahoma City.
Like KD, George was also said to be quite flattered by Kawhi’s recruitment — so flattered that he worked up the courage to ask for a trade out of OKC. Thunder general manager Sam Presti obviously wasn’t thrilled about the idea of trading the 2018-19 MVP finalist, but he decided to make the most of it:
You don’t have to trade a player once he asks to be moved. But usually you end up wishing you did, as the unhappy superstar and corresponding chaos these situations create thwart any chance at team building. So the Thunder obliged George’s request and sought to extract maximum value from the Clippers, knowing that landing George was key to the Clippers’ hopes of also landing Leonard.
While Leonard and his camp met with the Lakers and the Raptors, the Clippers and Thunder began negotiating a blockbuster trade. For Presti, it was a chance to make something good out of a bad situation while he still had leverage. For the Clippers, it was a chance to do something risky and bold after two seasons of prudent team building and asset accumulation.
As Kawhi’s camp kept the Lakers and Raptors waiting, the Clippers and Thunder worked on a deal and eventually got it done that would send shockwaves throughout the league.
For more details on how it all went down, I suggest you check out Shelburne’s article here.