Kawhi Leonard on Clippers partnership with Paul George: 'We can make history here'

LOS ANGELES — Few people inside Green Meadows Recreation Center were more excited than Clippers owner Steve Ballmer to welcome Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the organization.

“I’m pumped,” Ballmer shouted on stage at Wednesday’s introductory news conference, “to say hello, as Clippers, to Paul and Kawhi.”

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Applause erupted as he hollered, “Whoo!” into the microphone, urging members of the crowd to stand to their feet and welcome the new faces of the franchise.

The opportunity to make history in Los Angeles appealed to both Leonard and George before they decided to join the Clippers, and the addition of the two All-Stars launched the team into immediate title contention.

The Clippers know it.

“We’re only here for one reason,” Ballmer said. “We want to win it all.”

Leonard and George know it, too.

“I think we got something special,” Leonard said. “We can make history here. We got the right team to do it.”

Other than the chance to bring a title to a franchise that’s never been to an NBA Finals, the culture appealed to George, as well. For Leonard, it was the transparency of the front office.

But underneath those many factors that pulled them toward the Clippers was the chance to play so close to home.

“Just being able to be here full time,” George said of playing in Los Angeles. “The interactions I can have with people I grew up with. The people that’s been around me since I’ve been a kid.”

George, a native of Palmdale, California, simply shook his head as he stood at the podium for his opening remarks, searching for the words to describe the feeling of playing with Leonard just a couple hours from where he’d grown up.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are happy to be Clippers. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are happy to be Clippers. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

“It just seems like this was destined,” he said. “We were supposed to play together.”

He went back to 2011, when the Indiana Pacers drafted Leonard with the No. 15 overall pick of the draft.

“I was a little confused by it because I was the two guard there and Kawhi was my position,” he said. “And I was a bit nervous for the competition that was coming.

"But fast-forwarding that, and knowing the player I am and the player he developed into, I wish we would have kept that pick and I wish we would have progressed together.”

Leonard revealed that one of the first NBA games he attended growing up in Southern Los Angeles was a Clippers game.

“For my friends and family to drive to the game and watch me play,” he said, “and to see them out there and being able to just enjoy the time here is going to be great.”

Because the California natives need little time to get acquainted with the area, they’ve already started collaborating with head coach Doc rivers on the plan for next season.

“We watched a few clips together, talked, had lunch,” Leonard said. “But it’s not over yet. All three of us still got to get in the room.

“Not just us three. It’s gonna be a team effort making this work. The 15th guy on the bench has to be in that room, as well, to know what he needs to do, his role.”

The “landmark moment” for the Clippers franchise and its fans, as described by president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, drew near an end when everyone rushed outside to see the Clippers unveil a mural of their two newest members.

And the final flashes from the cameras went off to officially commemorate Kawhi Leonard’s and Paul George’s return home.

“They expect to win championships,” Frank said. “So do we.”

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