Paul George on scheming and teaming with Kawhi Leonard to join the Clippers: ‘We made it happen’
With his signature Thursday morning on a four-year contract extension with the Clippers, Paul George will call his native Southern California home for years to come.
The 30-year-old George, a six-time all-star, has said he wants to retire as a Clipper.
What could be a long-term union between the 6-foot-8 forward and the franchise might not have happened without a text message he sent in 2019 congratulating Kawhi Leonard on his recent NBA championship with Toronto.
Though George was just one year into a four-year contract with Oklahoma City, everything changed the moment Leonard, the year’s top free agent and a longtime target of the Clippers, responded to his text, George said during an appearance on the “All the Smoke” podcast (warning: contains profanity).
“I’m at dinner and so he hit me, he call me now like, ‘Oh yo, good looking bro good looks,” George said. “So he like, ‘What you gonna do?’ I’m like, ‘What? I’m in OKC, like what you mean? I’m under contract I just re-upped, like what you mean?’ He like, nah, ‘What you gonna do?’
“We was just hip-to-hip with what was going on. Everybody my side, his side, working together to where ultimately, man, we was able to pull it off.”
Paul George on working with Kawhi Leonard to team up with the Clippers
“So, I guess some stuff leaked, some stuff was getting out there that trades was possible and somebody was looking to get moved. And so he like, you know, ‘What you gonna do?’ So now my eyebrows go up. I call my agent, like, Kawhi saying this and that, what’s going down? So my agent do his due diligence, he chopped it up with OKC, come back to, actually, the stories that was being said was true, so I’m like OK, well … it’s time for me to go like if this is what’s going on.”
Once the Clippers finalized a deal with Oklahoma City — sending two starters, five draft picks and two pick swaps — on July 5, Leonard, who had pushed the team to acquire George during the early days of free agency, immediately agreed to join the Clippers.
“I went to Vegas, me and him was on a clock, on an hourly clock like, ‘Yo what they saying on that side? They saying this on my side.’ So we was just hip-to-hip with what was going on. Everybody my side, his side, working together to where ultimately, man, we was able to pull it off. We made it happen.”
The full hour-plus podcast episode was published Thursday, the same day the Clippers announced a contract extension that could see George earn up to $226 million over the next five years.
A five-minute snippet of the podcast was released a week earlier in which George was critical of the team’s lack of adjustments during its second-round loss to Denver, and of the way he was used within coach Doc Rivers’ offense. George later said his comments were not meant as disrespect toward his former coach.
“Ty Lue was sitting right next to me,” Rivers said in response, referring to his former assistant who was promoted in October. “So [George] better hope it’s not adjustments. It ain’t going to be much different.”
Adaptability is at the heart of the offense new Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has begun to install during his first three days of group practices.
During the full podcast, George discussed the Clippers’ inability to reach their potential during his first season alongside Leonard. After losing their 3-1 lead against the Nuggets, players cited the team’s lack of chemistry and time on the court because of injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic that upended the rhythm the team had found in March, just as the league suspended its season.
Once inside the league’s restart near Orlando, Fla., the Clippers used their on-paper potential as a “crutch,” George said.
When practices opened during the NBA’s “bubble” in July, George said his discomfort from playing on two surgically repaired shoulders had gone away and that he felt like himself again. But he said he struggled to adapt to other challenges presented by the isolated Disney World campus — the distance from family as well as the lack of energy in the fan-free arenas — he told podcast co-hosts Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson.
“You FaceTiming your family, you FaceTiming your kids. At some point you start to break, and it’s like, man, what am I doing here?” he said. “Like, this ain’t it right here. I understand we’re trying to win the championship and that’s the focus, but everything gotta line up for that to happen. … My hat’s off to the Lakers for being able to accomplish that, but myself, I struggled with it.”
As he struggled with his shooting during a first-round series against Dallas, he told reporters he had sought help from a team psychiatrist after feeling anxious and depressed.
“It didn’t feel right, like I couldn’t, I didn’t have that fire that I usually have going into matchups,” George said on the podcast. “Going into the games I knew I wanted to destroy [opponents], but it was just because the environment, like, this is what you want right here. It wasn’t like playoff times at all. It didn’t feel like playoff time at all. And that’s why you had, like, role players having the best games of they lives. There was no pressure, and for star players it was all of the pressure. It was just different; it was a complete 180 of hoops that’s usually normal to you.”
George also addressed his time in Indiana and Oklahoma City during the podcast. George said Anthony Davis, then with New Orleans, had expressed interest in joining him on the Pacers but that the team’s front office pursued other forwards.
Asked whether he had an opportunity to join the Lakers as a free agent in 2018, George said he did but that he extended with Oklahoma City as part of a plan to add Carmelo Anthony to a roster that included Russell Westbrook.
“I was supposed to, you know, take my free agency, be able to listen to everybody,” George said. “At that moment I was looking to go to L.A., but you know, it was just like, you know what, I mess with Russ, I want to see this all the way through, fine, like I’ll sign an extension to get Melo here. Let’s see what we can build. It just sucked that it was short-lived.”
The Clippers held their first group workout of training camp. Players are citing as motivation the team’s loss to Denver despite leading the series 3-1.
Last week, George told reporters he felt more comfortable entering his second season with the Clippers because his shoulders allowed him to train during the offseason. He said on the podcast that he spent recent workouts listening not to music but to the words of Kobe Bryant, the player he idolized growing up in Palmdale.
The Clippers begin the preseason Friday against the Lakers.
“I’m locked in, as locked in as you can be,” George said.
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