The Clippers’ seasonlong pursuit was based on a truth — one that wasn’t addressed by Kawhi Leonard or the team that wants him so badly. The reason the Clippers were on the chase, the reason they weren’t subtle, the reason their hopes were so pronounced, was because of the assumption that Leonard was interested in them too.
More than how the team was performing, more than the team making a big in-season trade, more than the development of young players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, the Clippers and Leonard were what people around the league wanted to talk about.
But throughout the season, there was a second set of conversations happening — albeit quieter — with top NBA executives, longtime team employees and former players all making the same prediction: Kevin Durant would wind up with the Clippers.
This kind of thing happens all the time when NBA people get together. Speculation about top players fuels conversations … but this is a little different.
While the Clippers certainly want Durant, they don’t seem to believe it’s very possible, no matter who says it is or how often it gets said.
It makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.
Durant got a first-hand look at the Clippers’ core in the playoffs, with the team’s young players and veterans pushing to bring out the best in him.
The team is in a desirable market — look at the teams Durant is reportedly considering — and if adding to his legacy is important, winning with the Clippers is something literally no one has been able to do.
But the best arguments for Durant to land with the Clippers might go back three years to when the team met with him in the Hamptons.
In a meeting that included owner Steve Ballmer, coach Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations , the Clippers tried to sell Durant on all kinds of scenarios to get him on board, which was an almost impossible task because the team didn’t have salary-cap room to sign him outright.
Durant, though, was still intrigued enough to take the meeting and, by all accounts, that get-together in 2016 went well. Some reports even went as far as to say that Durant was “blown away” with the Clippers’ presentation.
Obviously, he didn’t pick them then. He went to the Golden State Warriors, who had just eliminated Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.
With Golden State, he won two-straight NBA Finals MVP awards, one of just seven players to win the award consecutively in the past 50 years. And weirdly, by losing to Toronto in the finals this year, Durant’s legacy with the Warriors actually was strengthened.
His trip into this summer is more complicated, thanks to the surgically repaired Achilles tendon Durant is currently wheeling around New York City, where he’s been spotted on the cusp of free agency.
All season long, Durant was linked to the New York Knicks. Some of that momentum has transferred to the Brooklyn Nets. Re-signing with the Golden State is certainly an option. Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala might be one of the best lineups ever. The Warriors could even sign Durant to the full five-year max only they can offer with the understanding they would then trade him to the team of his choice next summer.
The Clippers make sense too. If Leonard stays in Toronto — and that’s certainly a very real “if” — the Clippers absolutely can wait one year for Durant while he rehabs, using the time to continue to put more on the plates of their young players like Gilgeous-Alexander and Shamet.
People recognize that. People are talking about it. Some people even think it can happen.
And, if things go just right, maybe people inside the Clippers will start to believe it too.