Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he thought he'd have to pry information out of Kawhi Leonard during a free agency meeting this summer, being familiar with the NBA star's well-known, quiet demeanor.
But Rivers was surprised with Leonard's bluntness informing the Clippers exactly what they needed to sign him.
"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,” Rivers told The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “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.’ ”
That meeting set into motion Rivers and Clippers executives zeroing in on a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George. Oklahoma City was ultimately sent unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 along with Miami’s first-round picks in 2021 and 2023. The Clippers also agreed to swap picks in two drafts (2023, 2025) and threw in former first-round picks Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
“Steve Ballmer was nervous about the picks,” Rivers recalled. “I said, ‘Steve, you keep saying six picks for Paul George is insane, but you’re saying it wrong. 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.”