Doc Rivers revealed the position Kawhi Leonard took during their meeting in Malibu as the Los Angeles Clippers pitched him on their franchise.
Lawrence Frank and Steve Ballmer had planned on pursuing Leonard for more than a year.
“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 said. “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.’ ”
Leonard wanted to sign with the Clippers, but they would have to find a way to acquire a second star.
“We actually had a list of guys, which was a mistake, but we got lucky,” Rivers said. “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 traded five first round picks plus two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder for George.
“Steve Ballmer was nervous about the picks,” Rivers said. “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.”
The Thunder initially rejected the trade, leading the Clippers to believe he was set to sign elsewhere.
“The day of the trade at 12 noon the deal was off,” Rivers said. “I was at home in Malibu and Lawrence called me and told me, ‘It looks like he’s either going to Toronto or the Lakers.’ The Lakers part just threw me over. I told him that can’t happen. … I remember I kept telling him, ‘We cannot allow that to happen!’
“I actually told Steve jokingly that if that happens, we’re moving the team to Seattle. It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that.”