In a new feature story for ESPN, Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George went into the details of how Kawhi Leonard, then a free agent, convinced him to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2019 offseason, despite the fact he had signed a four-year extension with the team just one year earlier.
As noted by Ramona Shelburne in the new report, George’s unexpected move from the Thunder to the Clippers started when he called Leonard to congratulate him on winning his first NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors. At this point, both All-Star forwards had known each other since their high school days in Southern California, but as George admitted to Shelburne, his simple congratulatory phone call to Leonard “took on a life of its own” soon after this initial conversation.
After both men exchanged “countless” phone calls and text messages, Leonard and George reportedly had two meetings in person at the Hidden Hills, California, home of Drake — a Toronto native who has long been one of the Raptors’ more famous fans. As further explained by Shelburne, the rap superstar allowed San Diego native Leonard to stay in his California residence while the latter attended free-agent meetings and considered his options.
“By July 1, they had decided to put their plan in motion: Leonard told the Clippers that he was interested in playing for them but only if they could improve their roster by adding an All-Star-caliber player like George.”
One day later, Leonard reportedly had another in-person meeting with George in Los Angeles. This led to the then-Thunder superstar’s agent calling team president Sam Presti to ask him whether it would be possible to trade George to the Clippers so that he could team up with his fellow Southern California native. As pointed out by ESPN‘s Shelburne, this was a request that “stunned” Presti, though he did say that he would see what he can do — provided he could have a face-to-face meeting with George before pushing forward with a trade.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) January 15, 2020
Once George explained to Presti the reason behind his trade request, a deal was finally made, with the Clippers surrendering second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, and an unprecedented five future first-round picks to the Thunder.
Although there were concerns that the Clippers may have offered too many assets to Oklahoma City, George recalled to Shelburne that he was glad everything worked out in the end.
“I can’t explain what that feels like,” he admitted. “As a kid, you see yourself and you envision this. I pictured my parents being able to watch me at Staples. I pictured playing in L.A. I pictured being an All-Star, a superstar.”
While George and Leonard’s arrival in Los Angeles has transformed the Clippers into one of the top contenders to represent the Western Conference in the 2020 Finals, the trade appears to have been a win-win situation for both teams involved. As pointed out in a separate article from Bleacher Report, Gilgeous-Alexander has blossomed into a star for the Thunder, having just come off a 20-20-10 (points, rebounds, and assists) triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Gallinari, meanwhile, remains a frequent subject of trade rumors but has nonetheless impressed in Oklahoma City, posting averages of 18.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists and shooting a shade over 40 percent from three-point range.