According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George had discussed playing together in Los Angeles well before free agency opened—a claim that has sparked more concern about tampering within the NBA.
In the latest episode of his ESPN podcast, Wojnarowski said George's agent had gone to OKC to request a trade to the Clippers, as his client was intent on playing with Leonard. The conversation reportedly took place prior to June 30, which suggests Leonard had already made up his mind about joining the Clippers before he had officially entered free agency.
"The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started ... Kawhi and Paul George were talking,” Wojnarowski said on The Woj Pod. "Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said, 'Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi.' But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him [until free agency started]."
Leonard ultimately inked a three-year max deal with the Clippers after the team had acquired George in a blockbuster trade. Clippers coach Doc Rivers shed more light on the deals in a recent interview with Los Angeles Times.
"[Leonard] said, ‘I want to play for you,’ and he pointed at me. He said, ‘[Clippers owner Steve] Ballmerr, 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.'"
Rivers continued: "We actually had a list of guys, which was a mistake, but we got lucky. 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.'"
Though it's no secret that player-to-player recruitment has occurred in the NBA, Wojnarowski says many of the franchises are initially unaware that these efforts are taking place.
"As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances," he said. "The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says 'I want this guy.'"
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced Friday that the organization would be cracking down on tampering by implementing harsher punishments for noncompliance; these include possible suspension, the loss of draft picks, and contract termination.
"If someone is absolutely determined to cheat in any industry and people are willing to do anything to be successful, I guess you have rogue actors in every field and in every industry," Silver said. "What we’re saying, though, [is] we think we're dramatically going to increase the likelihood that we're going to catch you. I don't want to suggest there's any perfect system. At some point you're relying, at least in part, on the good faith of partners working together and … that this is a culture in which people want to compete fairly."