The NBA offseason was as wild as everyone expected it to be, but the biggest coup may have been pulled off by the Los Angeles Clippers. They signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and are poised to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors in the West.
But it wasn’t easy to pull off, as Clippers coach Doc Rivers revealed when he spoke at a recent non-profit event, via the Los Anegeles Times. The Clippers had tried to let Leonard know that they were interested during the season by sending executives to Toronto Raptors games to sit in the crowd. Rivers even tried to talk to Leonard a few times when they were passing, but Leonard didn’t even acknowledge him.
Things picked up once they met with Leonard in person. Rivers recounted what Leonard said to him and owner Steve Ballmer in that meeting, via the Los Angeles Times:
“He said, ‘I want to play for you,’ and he pointed at me. 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.’”
Rivers said that they had already prepared a list of players to give to Leonard, but when they did, he fixated on just one name: Paul George.
“We showed him everybody else and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George, 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.’”
Not knowing if they could trade for George didn’t mean they weren’t going to try. The offer they put together was overwhelming: five first-round draft picks spanning five of the next seven years, the option to swap picks in 2023 and 2025, and two Clippers players who had been selected in the first round.
It was a lot. It was so much that even the brash Ballmer wasn’t totally on board. But Rivers found a way to convince him that it was the best way to get what they wanted.
“Steve Ballmer was nervous about the picks. I said, ‘Steve, you keep saying six picks for Paul George is insane, but you’re saying it wrong. It’s not six for Paul; it’s six for Paul and Kawhi. So three for each. I would do that.’ You have to look at it in those terms.”
Rivers’ brilliant argument sold Ballmer on the trade package (even though it ended up being five picks with the option for two more). The deal fell apart a few times before it actually got done — at noon on the day the trade went through, there was no deal. Rivers had heard that Leonard might be signing with the Lakers, which he considered to be the doomsday scenario.
“I actually told Steve jokingly that if that happens, we’re moving the team to Seattle. It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that.”
But by the end of that day, the Thunder got their picks, the Clippers got their men, and Doc Rivers was instrumental in making it happen.
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