Inside Kawhi Leonard’s Path To The Clippers

The Clippers were portrayed as a distant third in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes before the opportunity developed to trade for Paul George, but their work behind the scenes paved the way for success, according to Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a detailed look at one of the offseason’s most important stories.

Everything came together late on the night of July 5 when a tentative deal was reached with the Thunder that would deliver George for a generous return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two pick swaps. The Clippers’ front office then held its collective breath during a phone call to Leonard and his representatives to make sure he was on board.

When the answer came, L.A. vaulted into a short list of the league’s elite teams. Pairing Leonard and George gives them a pair of two-way stars in their prime who are capable of delivering the first championship in franchise history. It also brings a pair of Southern California natives back home, but the authors suggest that storyline was overblown in Leonard’s case.

From the start of free agency, Leonard was focused on finding a team that could contend for a title every year. He spoke to the Clippers several times each day once free agency began, continuing the conversation past his official meeting on July 1. The team’s selling points included owner Steve Ballmer’s commitment to winning and to spending whatever it takes to get there, a player-friendly environment and a planned new arena in Inglewood.

It turns out that discretion also worked in the Clippers’ favor. They have a history of making major deals without leaking to the press, as evidenced by recent trades involving Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris. It’s an approach that Leonard’s camp insisted upon, and it helped them as Leonard sorted through his options.

The payoff came late that Friday night as George and Leonard committed to joining forces. As Buha and Amick note, the moves validated everything the Clippers have set up since Ballmer bought the team and allowed them to cash in the assets they collected in the Griffin and Harris deals. All the small moves they had made in recent years suddenly turned into a very big deal.

There are a few more significant details from the Athletic story:

  • In contrast to the Clippers‘ reputation to operating in the shadows, the Lakers tend to be very public about their business. Some observers believe their chances at Leonard were severely damaged when details of his meeting with former team president Magic Johnson became public. “I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and (his uncle and confidant, Dennis Robertson) that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” a person involved in the process told the authors. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can’t trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them.”
  • Before learning of the opportunity with George, the Clippers ran through exhaustive scenarios about NBA stars who might be available. They contacted the Wizards about Bradley Beal and the Rockets about James Harden, but were turned down in both cases. Leonard, meanwhile, reached out to Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant about coming to Los Angeles.
  • George and Russell Westbrook both talked to the Thunder in June about shaking up the franchise, frustrated by a second straight early playoff exit. However, Oklahoma City management believed everything had been smoothed over by the time free agency began.
  • Leonard, who has built a reputation of knocking off “super teams,” wasn’t especially interested in forming another one by joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers. “Elite players like Kawhi earn their stripes, and he was not going to be a guy who joins a so-called ‘super team,’” a source told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “Now, if a super team forms around him, there is nothing he can control. The Clippers were the best long-term fit.”
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21 thoughts on “Inside Kawhi Leonard’s Path To The Clippers

  1. Connorsoxfan

    Or maybe the Clippers were willing to meet more of Uncle Dennis’s off the books demands than the Lakers or Raptors. I think it’s mostly speculation but the rumors out there are certainly intriguing.

    • Reflect

      Nah. I said from the beginning he would go to the Clippers and the Lakers had no chance of getting him. The Lakers are a mess of an organization and Kawhi is a smart guy who values peace and stability. It was easy to see how things would play out. But Lakers can’t comprehend that so they put out BS assumptions and conspiracies to the media.

      • JBowmanMAC

        Spoken like a Clipper fan keep buying the narrative that the Lakers are still a mess. Paul George’s health is a huge piece to what the clippers are able to do and he has had how many surgeries over the past 2-3 years ??
        Don’t get me wrong the Clippers took a Laker legend Jerry West and let him do his thing and have gone from the worst owner in all sports (Sterling) to the Wealthiest (Balmer)who seems to empower people who know basketball and he stays out of the way but let’s see how this shakes out after all they still have Clippers across there chest.

      • Connorsoxfan

        I think the stability thing is more likely, but it’s certainly interesting as far as conspiracies go.

    • jwillmayne

      Nobody cares about what demands Uncle Dennis made… just some salty team officials who feel some type of way, that they didn’t get Kawhi.

  2. nowayjose18

    Well written piece with some nice insight on the Leonard free agency. Can’t wait for this season to start!

  3. hinglemccringleberry

    “From the start of free agency, Leonard was focused on finding a team that could contend for a title every year”.

    So Lebron and Davis didn’t measure up? Lol.

    PG13 is as soft as toilet paper. He was Russ’s side piece, and now he’s KL’s Side piece. I see he he likes to spread it around. He reminds me of the girl in high school who passed up the guy going to Princeton, only to date the backup quarterback .

    • snotrocket

      Except he is better than Westbrook if you want to win, not just pad stats.

    • jwillmayne

      Hinglemcringleberry sounding like a dingleberry. Read the article… “kawhi doesn’t join super teams.”

    • Curtisrowe

      So a guy with two NBA championships, one just a few months ago, reminds you of a girl that dates a backup quarterback. You have an interesting mind.

      • nsideindy

        No, please re-read. He is saying that PG is the girl that dates the backup QB. And he’s right. PG is about as soft as they come. Nice guy…but not very smart and NEVER a winner.

  4. Down with OBP

    Um….It sounds like he did control a super team forming around him. That final quote sounds like Uncle Dennis and his penchant for revisionism.

  5. ThePriceWasRight

    it’s funny how the Lakers feel like they were used where as it sounds like it was really the Raptors who were used and had no chance at retaining Kawhi.

  6. lavey

    He will soon learn that the Clippers are losers and always will be. Nothing leaked about them because not enough people give a crap.

  7. Trip

    Clippers will always be that 2nd NBA team in LA!
    They should move back to San Diego!!

    • David D

      The ‘Clippers’ franchise was originally the Buffalo Braves before moving in 1978. So, maybe they should move back there instead on San Diego?

      More useless trivia? The Houston Rockets started as a franchise in San Diego circa 1967.

  8. dalrob

    Raptors are the ones left holding the bag. Today’s athletes are self absorbed and have no clue about the real word. Integrity and commitment mean nothing anymore in any sport. These people are nothing more than jesters employed for our amusement. When we stop caring, the slippery slope, is when things will change. It is already happening in baseball, hockey, and football. Never seen so many half filled baseball stadiums as this year.

    • Down with OBP

      Yes. Holding a bag with a championship in it. Honestly sounds like lakers fans are more salty about the decision than Raptors fans.

      And yes, players are realizing that they are only used by owners for entertainment – that loyalty and integrity crap was always a way to suppress the value players could make.

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