Kawhi Leonard

Clippers Notes: George, Kawhi, Trade Ideas

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.”

Pacific Notes: Warriors, Kawhi, LeBron, Lakers

Despite injuries draining the Warriors’ chances of competing for a title this season, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have done their best to maintain the uplifting atmosphere the franchise has generated in recent years, writes Mark Medina of USA Today.

Curry last played on October 30 and is expected to miss several more weeks due to a broken left hand, with Thompson still likely to miss the rest of season rehabbing from a torn ACL. Both players have been seen on the sidelines giving advice and firing up teammates despite their injuries.

“They’re just supportive with their antics and are goofy,” teammate Omari Spellman said, as relayed by Medina. “They’re trying to keep it uplifting and loose instead of it being so hectic and chaotic. It’s definitely appreciated that the older guys are taking the time to talk to us younger guys.”

The Warriors have also missed D’Angelo Russell, Draymond Green, Willie Cauley-Stein and others periodically this season, owning the league’s second-worst record at 9-31. Nonetheless, Golden State still sports one of the league’s most formidable cores when healthy, especially when coupled with the positive atmosphere that comes with it.

“That’s what our team has been in the last five years, in terms of taking a lot of joy out of a game and joy in each other’s accomplishments,” head coach Steve Kerr said. “When you see Steph jumping around on the sidelines when one of these young guys is doing something well, it’s a reminder that the foundation has been built.”

There’s more from the Pacific Division tonight:

  • Clippers coach Doc Rivers believes Kawhi Leonard‘s health is trending upwards, and the 2019 NBA Finals MVP agrees, Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN writes. “You know, he’s been doing it a lot lately,” Rivers said. “I think he is in a far better place now than he was in Game 1 [of the regular season], let’s just put it like that. You can see it with him, you can see it in the practices, it’s just going up. You can feel it, you can see it, he has a better thrust now. And it’s good, it has been really good to see.”
  • Lakers star LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth in career field goals made, converting a layup in the first quarter of Friday’s game to reach 12,192 total makes, Dave McMenamin of ESPN details. James passed Jordan in makes on 324 fewer attempts, McMenamin notes. “Any time you’re in a marathon and you’re able to have feats throughout that marathon, I think it’s just pretty cool to be linked with the greats,” James said postgame. “You said the name Michael Jordan; it just means so much to me. Any time I’m linked with his name, with his greatness and what he was able to do with the game. Hopefully, I continue to make him and all the other greats proud. Any time I’m linked with them. Hopefully, I can continue to make my family and my fans proud, as well.”
  • The Lakers are willing to trade virtually anyone to construct a championship-caliber roster this season, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times writes. With an emphasis on “willing,” Los Angeles is unlikely to make any earth-shattering trades before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, as the team has started the season with an impressive 32-7 record.

Atlantic Notes: Raptors, Siakam, Gallinari, C’s, Sixers

While some pundits still believe the Raptors might target future assets at the deadline, that’s clearly not the plan, according to Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star, who argues that the team should prioritize upgrading its roster and securing its spot among the Eastern Conference contenders.

Before the Raptors make any roster changes, it would benefit the front office to see the team’s full roster in action, something that hasn’t happened much this season. Currently, four of Toronto’s top six players in minutes per game – Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet – are sidelined, but the club may begin to clear its injured list soon.

Siakam, Gasol, and Powell all took part in practice on Friday on a limited basis, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski hears that there’s hope Siakam could be back in the lineup within the next week or so. A Sunday return would be a bit ambitious for Siakam or Gasol, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said today, but Powell is on track to be back on Sunday (Twitter link via Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Danilo Gallinari is among the potential trade targets the Celtics have monitored, a source tells Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. Pincus lays out how Boston could acquire a player like Gallinari or Andre Drummond, but since it would almost certainly involve moving Gordon Hayward or a package headed by Marcus Smart, I’m skeptical the C’s will seriously pursue either player.
  • The Sixers were victorious on Thursday in the first game of what could be a multi-week absence for Joel Embiid, but Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports argues the team should still be worried about not having its star center active. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Bobby Marks point out (via Twitter) that Norvel Pelle only has five NBA days left on his two-way contract and will have to return to the G League soon if Philadelphia doesn’t open up a 15-man roster spot for him.
  • After Kawhi Leonard denied having any offseason interest in the Knicks, the club found a way to put a positive spin on those comments, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. According to Berman, Kawhi’s uncle Dennis Robertson was in touch with the Knicks in the summer and wanted Leonard to listen to the team’s pitch. The Knicks claimed they canceled their scheduled meeting because they felt they were long shots for Leonard and believe the forward’s recent comments validate that decision, Berman notes.

Atlantic Notes: LeVert, Irving, Siakam, Gasol, Leonard

Nets guard Caris LeVert made his highly-anticipated return against the Raptors on Saturday night, seeing his first in-game action with the team since November 10.

LeVert, who had missed the last 24 games after undergoing surgery to address ligament damage in his thumb, finished with 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting off the bench despite being on a minutes restriction.

“I felt pretty good out there. Obviously we wanted to get a win, but just me personally, I felt pretty good,” LeVert said, as relayed by Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

LeVert is widely considered as one of the most talented players on the Nets when healthy, and it’s possible he’ll rejoin the team’s starting lineup in the coming weeks. He averaged 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 40 contests last season.

“Just adds one of our best players to the lineup quite honestly,” head coach Kenny Atkinson said of LeVert’s return. “A dynamic player, athleticism, quickness, speed. A guy that knows our system too. It’s not like some guy we signed out of the blue. I feel comfortable once he gets his rhythm. He knows what we’re doing on both sides of the ball so that’s a big comfort level.”

The Nets have been plagued with injuries to start the season, playing without Kevin Durant (torn Achilles’ rehab), Kyrie Irving (right shoulder; 11 games played), LeVert and others. Brooklyn owns the seventh-best record in the East at 16-18.

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Alex Schiffer of The Athletic details what we know about Kyrie Irving‘s lingering right shoulder injury, which has forced the six-time All-Star to miss the past 23 games. Irving recently received a cortisone shot for the shoulder impingement, opting to go this route instead of having arthroscopic surgery — for now. “I’m in a better place now that it’s been some significant time,” Irving said. “I tried to go without any anti-inflammatories, which is why it took so long. Now I’m at a place where the next step was to either get a cortisone shot or get surgery. So that was the ultimatum I was fixed with. So now I’m just doing the best I can to live off this cortisone and move forward if I need surgery in the future.”
  • Raptors big men Pascal Siakam (groin) and Marc Gasol (hamstring) still aren’t close to returning to action, head coach Nick Nurse said, as relayed by Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link). “I would still say, if I was guessing, the order of comeback would probably be Matt [Thomas] and Norm [Powell], Marc and then lastly Pascal if that’s the case,” Nurse said. “But I think we’re still, I mean, we’re still a ways away with Marc and Pascal. I think Norm and Matt are in the front-view mirror, let’s put it that way.”
  • Kawhi Leonard said he never considered joining the Knicks in free agency and denied scheduling a meeting with the team, Ian Begley of SNY.tv writes. “I never said I was considering going to the Knicks. Everybody knew where I wanted to go once I requested the trade so I don’t know where that came from,” Leonard said. New York lost out on Kawhi, who signed with the Clippers, as well as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who signed with the Nets. The Knicks claimed they pulled out of a scheduled meeting with Leonard.

Clippers Notes: Leonard, Rivers, George, Vogel

Kawhi Leonard said he wasn’t aware of any illegal demands allegedly made by his uncle, Dennis Robertson, during free agency, writes Mark Medina of USA Today. A report surfaced yesterday that Robertson was making outrageous requests as Leonard considered whether to remain with the Raptors or head to Los Angeles to join the Clippers or Lakers. Robertson reportedly sought an ownership stake, a private plane, a house and a guaranteed amount of off-court endorsement money.

“I didn’t read it. I don’t know how reliable it is,” Leonard said of the story by Sam Amick of The Athletic. “I have no knowledge of it. People make up stories every day.”

Coach Doc Rivers also dismissed the report, calling it a “pretty empty story” because the Clippers were cleared of any wrongdoing in a formal investigation by the league. The organization insists that the only demand Leonard made was to find a way to trade for Paul George.

“They investigate every year. I don’t know why that is news,” Rivers said. “Every year, someone signs, there is going to be an investigation. That’s fine. The key is once you’re clear. From what I know, I don’t think we were the only ones.”

There’s more Clippers news to pass along:

  • After being traded to L.A. in July, George engaged in some playful banter with newly hired Lakers coach Frank Vogel about who was going to take over the city, Medina adds in a separate story. Vogel coached George with the Pacers in six of his first seven NBA seasons and they have remained close friends. “He definitely helped with my development by throwing me out there, throwing me into the fire, giving me that experience, letting me learn on the fly and make mistakes,” George said.
  • George was heartened by the friendly reception he got from Thunder fans Sunday night in his first game back in Oklahoma City since requesting a trade, relays Royce Young of ESPN. The Thunder acknowledged his work in the community as well as his success on the court. “Everything was a chapter, from the second I got here,” George said. “From my foundation, to big games we won, rivalries, brotherhood, partnerships and relationships, with [Thunder general manager] Sam [Presti] ... they looked out for me, they looked out for my family and I’m forever grateful for this opportunity.”
  • Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register compares recent moves by the Clippers and Lakers as they both try to put together a title contender.

Fournier Could Be On The Move

Magic swingman Evan Fournier is the player most likely to be moved before the trade deadline, according to an ESPN Insider report from Bobby Marks.

While there’s no indication Fournier is being shopped, a straw poll of NBA executives believe that the Magic will need to start exploring their trade options on the veteran, who is likely to leave $17.2MM on the table and opt out this summer. Orlando is currently battling for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Fournier is enjoying a career year, averaging 19.6 PPG and shooting 42.3% from long range.

Here are more nuggets from the ESPN report:

NBA Investigated Clippers After Deal With Kawhi

The NBA conducted a formal investigation into the Clippers last summer following the team’s free agent agreement with Kawhi Leonard, three sources with knowledge of the situation tell Sam Amick of The Athletic. As Amick explains, complaints surfaced during Leonard’s free agency that his uncle Dennis Robertson was asking teams for improper benefits.

According to Amick, the NBA was told following Leonard’s free agent decision that Robertson had asked team officials for an ownership stake, a private plane, a house, and a guaranteed amount of off-court endorsement money they could expect if Kawhi joined their team. As Amick rightly notes, all of those requests would violate the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

A source with knowledge of the Lakers‘ talks with Leonard tells Amick that Robertson repeatedly made those requests to owner Jeanie Buss, who made it clear the perks were illegal and wouldn’t be considered. Sources tell The Athletic that similar requests were made of the Raptors, which aligns with what we heard out of Toronto at the time.

The presumption among rival teams is that Robertson asked the Clippers for similar perks, but the league’s investigation didn’t turn up any evidence that the Clips granted any of those requests, per Amick.

Leonard’s free agency process was believed to be the motivating factor for the NBA’s decision to introduce new anti-tampering guidelines and penalties this fall. The league has also asked the players’ union to re-emphasize that only certified player agents are permitted to negotiate directly with teams, a rule that teams are expected to stress on their ends going forward as well.

“This is all because of Uncle Dennis,” one team owner said of those measures to cut down on tampering and cap circumvention, according to Amick. A prominent agent offered a similar assessment: “This is because of Dennis. He didn’t know the rules.”

Although the Lakers are comfortably atop the Western Conference with a 24-6 record, the team is still upset by how the Leonard sweepstakes played out, says Amick. For a short time, there was a strong belief within the Lakers’ organization that the Finals MVP would choose them, but they came to suspect that Kawhi’s camp was using them for leverage.

For what it’s worth, a source tells Amick that the Raptors never believed the Lakers were truly an option for Leonard. Amick adds that there was also some skepticism within the Clippers’ organization that Kawhi would join the Lakers, albeit not from the club’s top executives.

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Webster, Theis, Celtics

It might seem like Kawhi Leonard was intent on playing in Los Angeles long-term but he insists he gave serious thought to the idea of re-signing with the Raptors, according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Gave it big consideration,” the Clippers superstar said. “I took my time like I did; I didn’t hurry up and make a quick decision. I talked to the (Raptors’) front office in deep detail. It was a hard choice to make.”

Leonard added that he had no issues with the Raptors organization. “I had a great time last year with the coaching staff, front office and the players. It was a great experience,” he said.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri gets plenty of credit for building a championship team but GM Bobby Webster’s influence should not be underestimated, as Dan Robson of The Athletic details in a profile of the young executive. One player agent told Robson that Webster is heavily involved in all aspects of personnel decisions. “Bobby is making a lot of the decisions in terms of everything they do,” the unnamed agent said. “Masai is the lead role and the face of the program, and obviously very involved … but Bobby is the driving force, at least for me, for a lot of the decisions they make.”
  • Celtics big man Daniel Theis is aware of the perception that the frontcourt is the team’s weakness but he tries to drown out the noise, as he told Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston“We have so many bigs and it’s whoever plays good that night,” said Theis. “You don’t guard the best bigs with one person. It’s a team effort. We’re [the third best team] in the East and we’re playing really good basketball as a team. So, no, I don’t listen to that.”
  • Despite what Theis believes, the Celtics will probably need another quality big man to get past Philadelphia and Milwaukee in the postseason, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated argues. Joel Embiid‘s monster game against Boston on Thursday put the Celtics’ frontcourt issues on full display, Mannix adds.

Pacific Notes: Poole, Baynes, Kawhi, Joseph

The Warriors want rookie shooting guard Jordan Poole, the No. 28 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, to spend time in the G League, according to Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. Poole (Jordan, not Monte) is currently averaging 7.9 PPG and 2.3 RPG, and 2.0 APG in 24 minutes per game.

The 20-year-old Michigan alum is shooting just 25.8% from the floor for the Warriors. According to Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area, Golden State coach Steve Kerr told reporters that there is not a definitive timeline yet for Poole’s trip to Santa Cruz.

“There’s nothing set in stone yet,” Kerr said after the Warriors finished their practice Tuesday. “He’ll eventually be there. That’s a big part of our development process. Santa Cruz has been a big asset over the years. A lot of players go back and forth, so it’ll happen for Jordan at some point.”

There’s more out of the Pacific Division:

  • Gina Mizell of The Athletic observes that center Aron Baynes‘ return to the court on Monday against the Wolves marked the first step toward the Suns replenishing their frontcourt assets. Baynes had been sidelined with hip and calf injuries for three weeks prior to his suiting up for the Suns, on his 33rd birthday no less. In just 15 minutes Baynes scored 12 points and pulled down four boards in a Phoenix win. Starting center (and 2018 No. 1 draft pick) Deandre Ayton remains out of commission while serving a 25-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy.
  • All-NBA Clippers wing Kawhi Leonard was treated to a standing ovation and chants of “MVP!” from a warm Canadian crowd on the night he received his 2019 NBA championship ring in Toronto. The Clippers faced the Raptors in the Great White North for the first time since Leonard changed sides as a free agent in the summer of 2019. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports took stock of the moment.
  • Kings point guard Cory Joseph, starting in Sacramento with De’Aaron Fox still injured, has been adding some bite to Sacramento’s defense, according to Jason Jones of The Athletic… and Joseph’s teammate Harrison Barnes. Barnes said to reporters in the Sacramento locker room on Monday night that he thinks Joseph is deserving of Second-Team All-Defensive honors for his work this season. Fox, meanwhile, is projecting a return to game action in a week and a half, according to James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area (via Twitter).

Pacific Notes: Burks, Suns, Clippers, LeBron

Shooting guard Alec Burks originally thought he would be helping Paul George and Russell Westbrook take the Thunder to the promised land in 2019/20. But things change quickly in the NBA. Burks signed a one-year, $2.3MM veteran’s minimum contract with the Warriors this summer after Oklahoma City let out Burks of his deal once the team opted to rebuild following its trade of George to the Clippers.

Burks has been stuffing the stat sheet lately for an injury-depleted Golden State. And his efforts (including tallying 29 points and pulling down eight rebounds in 114-95 win over the Grizzlies this past Tuesday) have not gone unnoticed, as Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area reports.

“I definitely knew he could score,” three-time All-Star forward and defensive team lynchpin Draymond Green told Murdock. “When he’s been on any team, he comes off the bench and he gets it going. Going downhill, getting to the basket and I think he’s definitely improved his jump shot.” On such a favorable deal, Burks could serve as a spark plug bench shooter for a contender this spring.

There’s more news from around the Pacific:

  • In an excellent piece on the upstart Suns, The Athletic’s John Hollinger notes that the team, currently 8-7, has reason to be optimistic about their season outlook. Hollinger suggests that, with several teams amongst the 2018/19 Western Conference playoff crop already off to rocky starts, the conference feels wide open. A postseason berth is hardly off the question for the team, which has seen ample improvement after adding Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes this summer, not to mention new head coach Monty Williams and incumbent star shooting guard Devin Booker. Hollinger credits Rubio as a big component to the team’s current two-way improvement, and Williams as a major culture-setting upgrade.
  • USA Today’s Mark Medina observes that the Clippers have already determined their late-game dynamics with All-NBA forwards Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, their two blockbuster team additions from this offseason. This, of course, spells trouble for the rest of the league. “That’s the beauty of this team. Nobody cares who’s getting the shots down the stretch or who gets the looks,” George noted. “You have a group of guys that just want to win.”
  • After the Lakers eked out a 109-108 win against the Grizzlies yesterday, All-Star forward LeBron James registered his ire at a lack of foul calls in his favor granted by the game’s attendant referees (he had zero free throw attempts). “I’m living in the paint,” James said after the game, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “If you look at my arm right here, these are four or five [scratches] that happened the last two games, and they weren’t called at all.” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel shares James’ frustration, and apparently intends to bring the officiating up with the NBA. “We’ll deal with the proper channels and talk to the league about that,” Vogel said.