Doc Rivers has revealed what it took for the Clippers to land Kawhi Leonard.
The LA coach said he expected initial meetings to be tough with Leonard, who is known for his quiet disposition. However, he said Leonard was open to meeting him at his Malibu home in early July, which was an encouraging sign.
“We had a meeting with Kawhi at my house in Malibu and we felt we had the inside position,” Rivers told The Los Angeles Times. “The Lakers had a meeting with Kawhi, and they built this whole thing up for him to come to their new practice facility and he said, ‘No, you can come to my hotel room.’ But with us he said, ‘Yes, I’ll come to your house.’ When we heard that it felt like he was telling us he wants to come here.”
Rivers revealed that he had tried to talk to Leonard a few times over the past couple of seasons, but he barely got a word out of him. As the most coveted free agent of this past offseason, Leonard told Rivers and team owner Steve Ballmer that the only way he would play for the Clippers is if their roster was revamped.
“He said, ‘I want to play for you,’ and he pointed at me," Rivers recounted. "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.’”
The Clippers got to work and looked at a list of players they wanted to acquire in the offseason. Rivers said he took a gamble by showing Leonard the team's short list, and it didn't take long for Leonard to hone in on Paul George.
“We shouldn’t have had a list, because then he got to choose who he wanted to play with and the assumption was that we could get them," Rivers said. "We didn’t know if we could get anybody. We just showed him guys that we thought would match him, and when he saw Paul George’s name he said, ‘I want to play with him.’
“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.’ We did know that Oklahoma City wanted to break their team up, so that helped, but we didn’t know if we could get him.”
Rivers got lucky — the Clippers worked it out so they were able to get George by sending the Thunder unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, along with the Heat's first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. They also agreed to pick swaps in 2023 and 2025 and added in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
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As a result, Leonard picked the Clippers over the Raptors and the Lakers.
“We won the summer, but we’re trying to win the season,” Rivers said. “Winning the summer is great, it allows you to win the season, but we’ve won nothing yet. Now the real work begins.”