LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers played a massive part of bringing in Kawhi Leonard in free agency, considering the stakes and vacillation between three teams coveting his services. The longtime coach explained how he went about recruiting the recently crowned NBA champion in the early days of July:
“We had a meeting with Kawhi at my house in Malibu and we felt we had the inside position,” Rivers told Arash Markazi of 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 was previously fined $50,000 for saying “Kawhi is the most like Jordan we’ve seen” during an ESPN interview. The two had never spoken at length, with that first meeting at Rivers’ home being their first full-fledged conversation:
“I actually tried to speak to him last season a couple times as he was walking by and you get nothing out of him. Nothing,” said Rivers. “He comes into this meeting and he shakes our hands and he’s talking. We were prepared for a meeting where we would have to drag things out of him. Instead, he’s the one talking and finally he tells us exactly what the deal is.
“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.’”
With that edict already present, the Clippers proceeded to roll out a list of other stars to chase, but it didn’t take long for Leonard to fixate on Paul George:
“We actually had a list of guys, which was a mistake, but we got lucky,” said Rivers. “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.’
“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.”
The Clippers wound up shelling out an NBA-record five first-round draft picks, the services of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and the rights to swap two other first-round picks. A hefty haul, but one they deemed as worth the cause after netting the services of George and Leonard.