Kawhi Leonard was the marquee man in a blockbuster 2019 NBA free agency, following his Finals heroics for the Toronto Raptors.
The three-team race for his signature came down to the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers or running it back with the Raptors, eventually choosing to come home to California to suit up for the Clippers. But the decision was not so cut and dry, explaining to ESPN's Rachel Nichols in a sit-down interview just how close he came to going in a different direction.
"I was very close. Real close," Leonard said. "But when [the Clippers] presented the opportunity of playing with Paul [George] it was easy, it was a yes. I said let's get it going."
Kawhi tells @Rachel__Nichols he was "very close" to picking the Lakers or Raptors before deciding to join the Clippers. pic.twitter.com/dp19yxYm67- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 24, 2019
George said playing alongside Leonard for the Clippers felt "like destiny," with the two Los Angeles area natives officially unveiled as the newest members of the Clippers in an introductory press conference today.
"It's still kind of surreal. Just being able to have Paul on my team and just being back home and playing," Leonard told Nichols.
"It's just a great experience. It's probably going to be my first time playing with an elite player at his level, around the same age as me, same talent. You know, I'm excited to play. I can't wait til training camp starts, to get into season mode, to put on a jersey, pass someone a ball, you know, just talk on the floor.
"I can't wait. I'm excited."
LA. Our Way. pic.twitter.com/SbylgAGo6b- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) July 24, 2019
After an extensive series of meetings with each team, Leonard eventually signed a three-year, $104 million contract with the Clippers, lining up his deal to fit the timeline of George's contract, which has three years remaining.
With the two stars on deck for the Clippers, they enter the 2019-20 season as favourites to win the NBA championship, with the Lakers not far behind, setting the stage for a prime time rivalry at Staples Center.