Late last month, the Los Angeles Clippers held a press conference introducing their new superstar tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The moment wasn't lost on Clippers head coach Doc Rivers, who helped orchestrate a similar union between Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill with the Orlando Magic in 2000.
Even though they happened 19 years apart, the blueprint was still the same. Rivers understood the importance of selling a superstar (or two) on joining a nearly complete product, instead of hoping that they would be willing to join a franchise in rebuilding mode. Before the arrival of their respective superstar tandems, Orlando and Los Angeles developed the identity of being a hard-nosed group without a superstar that still managed to compete for a playoff spot.
The Clippers entered free agency this summer, and Rivers was on the brink of getting that first domino to fall with Leonard. Doc just needed to win him over in their meeting. Given Kawhi's indeterminable demeanor, it wasn't going to be easy, but Rivers thought he had him figured out. "All the other stuff that people think matters in the recruitment, I don’t think Kawhi wanted to talk about that, and so I didn’t," Rivers told Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times. "I talked about winning, and basketball."
"Kawhi is a serious man and I think you felt that with him," Rivers continued. "I think he felt the seriousness of me and how serious I am about winning and how serious he is about winning and he felt good about that match." While immensely important, Rivers' recruitment was only half the battle. Leonard was reportedly intent on teaming with another star.
So while in the living room of Doc’s Malibu home, Clippers president of basketball operations, Lawrence Frank, recalls presenting Kawhi with a list of potential star players that could play alongside him. Frank remembers Leonard pointing at George's name, saying, "That's the guy." The Clippers knew that the ball was now in their court, and that they couldn't squander the opportunity. We all know what happened next.