The inciting incident for the union of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the summer of 2019 was a congratulatory phone call from George to Leonard a few days after the Raptors‘ championship victory, writes Ramona Shelburne in a cover story for ESPN.
“It was congratulating him on winning,” George said. “That’s how it started … then it took on a life of its own.”
As Shelburne details, that one phone call turned into multiple phone calls, text messages, and even in-person meetings at Drake’s house in Los Angeles, where the rapper let Leonard stay while the San Diego native was in town for free agent meetings.
By July 1, Leonard and George had decided they wanted to team up, preferably with the Clippers, and kept in constant communication during that first week of free agency, even meeting at Drake’s house following Kawhi’s meeting with Toronto. Although the Thunder engaged in George trade talks with both the Clippers and Raptors, as reported in July, the Clips were “clearly the favored destination” for the star duo and were the team most willing to pay the high price to get a deal done, per Shelburne.
Here’s more on the Clippers:
- Shelburne’s story is worth checking out in full for a more in-depth explanation of why returning to his hometown of Los Angeles meant so much to George. “[People] think it was a basketball move,” George said. “And for a lot of reasons, it was a basketball move. But that’s not where it comes from. It was a lot deeper than me coming here for basketball reasons.”
- In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Kevin Pelton examines the Clippers’ trade options, noting that the team will want to load up for a potential playoff matchup with the Lakers. Pelton views Marcus Morris as a more worthwhile trade target than Andre Iguodala if the Clips are willing to give up their 2020 first-round pick. He also briefly explores the idea of a Lou Williams trade, unlikely as it may be.
- The Clippers are in almost exactly the same spot the Raptors were last season, according to Dan Woike of The Los Angeles Times. As Woike points out, the Clippers’ 2019/20 first half (28-13, sixth in net rating) is nearly a statistical match for Toronto’s ’18/19 first half (29-12, sixth in net rating). Leonard has also missed almost exactly the same number of games (11 of 41, compared to 10 of 41 last season).
- Those similarities to last year’s title team may be one reason why Leonard is preaching patience to his Clippers teammates, as Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN details. “We just can’t be in a rush,” Kawhi said when asked about the Clippers’ continuity, or lack thereof. “That’s what I’m [telling them]. Just be patient. It’s hard to win a championship. The pressure isn’t even on us now. Just enjoy the process and have fun.”