After being introduced as a member of the LA Clippers for the first time on Wednesday, Kawhi Leonard spoke about his week-long free agency process.
In a sit-down with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Leonard said he was “very close” to signing with one of the other two teams he was considering — the Los Angeles Lakers or Toronto Raptors — but the lure of playing alongside Paul George sealed the deal for the Clippers.
“I was very close. Real close,” Leonard said. “But when (the Clippers) presented the opportunity of playing with Paul it was easy, it was a yes. I said let’s get it going.”
Leonard said in his introductory news conference that he has always wanted to play with George, a fellow Southern California native. He followed that statement up with high praise for the six-time All-Star in speaking with Nichols.
“This is probably going to be my first time playing with an elite player on his level around the same age as me, same talent,” Leonard said. “I’m excited.”
Some reports claim that Leonard lost interest in the Lakers when former team president Magic Johnson told the media about his meeting with the free agent superstar. Reports also accused Leonard of intentionally taking his time to make a decision in an effort to make the Lakers miss out on other targets in free agency.
The reigning Finals MVP denied such cases, telling Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports that the leaks from Magic had no effect on his decision and that he never intended “to screw anybody over.”
“I just feel like that’s just bad karma,” Leonard said in reference to manipulating teams. “If they didn’t want to wait for me, they didn’t have to. They had a big opportunity to sign me. I was close, but I ended up on the other side.”
George, meanwhile, opened up on how he was acquired via trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The 29-year-old forward says he and the Thunder front office came to a mutual understanding back when George re-signed to a four-year deal in 2018.
“This was nothing that came out of the blue,” George told Nichols. “The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do. I did that. Played another year, and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let’s go forward and go on with other plans.”
George said former teammate Russell Westbrook, who was subsequently traded to the Houston Rockets, stood by his decision and was “all for it”, per Nichols.
With the additions of Leonard and George, the Clippers are expected to be among the top title contenders in the NBA, with both players under contract until at least 2021.