And it included Paul George.
“Which was a mistake, but we got lucky,” Rivers told the Times. “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. 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.'”
The Thunder had been ousted from the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season. But a year earlier, in July 2018, they had signed George to a four-year, $137 million extension, indicating they were committed to keeping the team’s core intact.
“We showed him everybody else and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George,” Rivers said of Leonard. “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.”
River said Leonard, a Southern California native, made firm demands in the meeting, telling him and Clippers owner Steve Ballmer he wanted to see a boost in their efforts in upgrading the team.
“Kawhi said, ‘I want to play for you.’ And he pointed at me,” Rivers told the Times. “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.'”
Ballmer and the Clippers completed the blockbuster trade for George on July 5. The deal included four future unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two pick swaps.
Three weeks later, they then unveiled impressive, expansive plans for a proposed new home complete with headquarters, a training facility, a sports medicine clinic, community courts, and an area with a giant big screen for fans to watch games outside — a la Toronto’s Jurassic Park — all located on 26 acres in Inglewood, California. Last week, the Clippers announced they were investing $100 million in the city of Inglewood in a community benefits plan that was negotiated with city officials as part of their arena development agreement.
“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,” Rivers said. “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.”