Clippers coach Doc Rivers implored Steve Ballmer to give up 5th 1st-round pick for Paul George, as it would net Kawhi Leonard
LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers tried to live a normal life through the early days of free agency, frequenting his favorite Malibu restaurant despite the constant pressure-cooker that came with pursuing Kawhi Leonard along with the lateral race to acquire Paul George. According to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, Rivers wasn’t able to enjoy his favorite Dover sole, constantly checking his phone during dinner and imploring owner Steve Ballmer to allow Lawrence Frank to throw in a fifth first-round selection in exchange for George:
Oklahoma City’s price was steep — an insistence on young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a player Doc adored, and multiple first-round picks. Ballmer drew the line at four. Rivers trusted Frank, his longtime friend and colleague, to manage the negotiations, but it didn’t stop him from sheepishly excusing himself from his Nobu table, stepping outside the oceanfront eatery and calling Ballmer himself to implore him to throw in that fifth first-round selection.
Rivers knew this wasn’t just a deal to get an MVP finalist in George, whose price was at an all-time high, but one that would guarantee Leonard’s loyalty and commitment, which ultimately made it worth the world:
“It wasn’t just for Paul George,” Rivers would explain afterward. “It was for Paul George and Kawhi. We weren’t getting one without the other.”
Rivers returned to his table after calling Ballmer, embarrassed that work duties had kept him away from his meal and his company on the table. MacMullan beautifully described the next few seconds:
“I can’t do this,” he thought, but his screen suddenly lit up. And before Doc could get by the Bonsai tree outside Nobu’s exit, he was on the phone.
“We got ’em!” Frank declared.
The road was tough for the Clippers, but to say the reward was worthwhile seems like an understatement.
Despite trading away an NBA-record five first-round picks for George, the Clippers soon got the nod from Leonard, who would later sign a three-year, $103 million commitment to the franchise.