Early on Saturday morning, NBA fans from around the world were shocked to hear that Kawhi Leonard had agreed to sign a four-year, $140.7 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, with fellow All-NBA forward Paul George joining him via trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The pair of blockbuster deals was apparently made possible thanks to several conversations between Leonard and George, as both Southern California natives found a way to join forces with each other on one of their hometown teams. But before Leonard made his first recruiting pitch to George, he had reportedly tried convincing erstwhile Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant to sign with the Clippers in the weeks before free agency officially started on June 30.
In a report that told the story behind the blockbuster deals that brought Leonard and George to the Clippers, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne wrote on Sunday that Leonard — who entered free agency right after helping the Toronto Raptors win their first-ever NBA championship — called Durant and asked if he would consider a chance to join the Clippers along with him. During this call, Kawhi reportedly told “KD” that he had “always admired him” and had “tremendous respect” for him as a rival player.
“Durant was flattered and more than a little stunned, according to sources close to the situation,” Shelburne added. “He didn’t know Leonard that well, so getting a recruiting call like that made a real impression.”
Despite how it seemed that Kevin Durant felt positive about receiving a call from Kawhi Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP eventually signed with the Brooklyn Nets as rumors had widely suggested, taking his talents to the team along with close friends Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. According to Shelburne, Durant’s decision to move to Brooklyn was the catalyst for Leonard’s next move — getting in contact with Paul George and selling him on the idea of asking the Thunder for a trade to the Clippers.
Given Leonard’s reputation as a “quiet, reserved guy,” CBS Sports wrote that it was surprising to learn that he apparently played a big role in recruiting Durant, and later on making a pitch to George when Durant ended up signing with the Nets. On the other hand, the outlet added that it was understandable that Leonard was prioritizing the opportunity to play alongside another superstar, as he had done a lot of “heavy lifting” for the Raptors as the team’s top player during their 2018-19 championship run.
With Leonard and George set to play for the Clippers in the 2019-20 season, the duo will be joining a team with a core lineup that still features guards Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Landry Shamet and big men Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac. As further noted on the team’s Basketball-Reference page for the 2018-19 campaign, the Clippers finished eighth in the Western Conference with a 48-34 regular-season record and lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of this year’s playoffs.