LOS ANGELES, CA – (News4usonline) – Los Angeles Clippers owner and chairman Steve Ballmer is pretty excited these days. He should be. After all, it’s not every day that you have two NBA superstars drop in your lap. The NBA free agency period can either be strokes of good fortune or one of mitigated disaster.
For the Clippers, this free agency summer turned out to be golden with two-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and six-time NBA All-Star Paul George both arriving back home where they started their basketball roots to play for Ballmer’s team.
“You watch them play, they’re tough,” Ballmer said. “I love the toughness…two guys who every year have gotten better. Every year. That’s the kind of…I’m inspired by that. Work offseason. Off-court…work, work, work, work, work, work. Two guys who are MVP guys.”
Drop the mic because very few people, if any, saw this scenario play out the way that it has in favor of the Clippers. The signing of Leonard and the Clippers’ trade for George has virtually shaken up the power dynamics in the NBA. As far as title contenders are concerned, Ballmer, team consultant Jerry West, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and head coach Doc Rivers have done their jobs in putting the Clippers in position to jockey for the championship.
Now, it’s up to Leonard and George to help lead the way for the franchise to achieve that goal. West, known as The Logo, said because of their outstanding play both offensively and defensively, Leonard and George make for a pretty good tandem on the court.
“I don’t know if there is in the whole league, two better players that play both ends of the court,” West said. “These are the two most well-rounded players in the NBA. To have them together in the prime of their careers is pretty special.”
After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title, Leonard, who starred at Canyon Springs High School (Moreno Valley) and Martin Luther King High School in Riverside during his prep days, is now the official leader of the Clippers, thanks to the three-year, $103 million contract he reportedly signed with the team.
Leonard, along with George, was formally introduced to the Los Angeles community during a press conference at Green Meadows Recreation Center in South Los Angeles on Wednesday, July 24.
The reception for Leonard and George was highly enthusiastic as local officials and other dignitaries celebrated the players’ arrival back to the Southland. George, before playing collegiate career at Fresno State, played high school basketball at Knight High School in Palmdale.
George spent seven of his first nine seasons with the Indiana Pacers, where he blossomed into one of the league’s top two-way players. Leonard’s road to glory came by way of San Diego State before he played himself into prominence as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. As the world now knows, Leonard spent his one season with Toronto leading the Raptors to the NBA title.
Leonard is eager to duplicate his previous on-court success, this time as a Clipper.
“I’m on my next journey and these guys…I think we’ve got a great future, “Leonard said. “Paul has always been a player I’ve wanted to play with.”
The most interesting dynamic aspect of the two Southern California natives being paired together is that it almost came to fruition back in Indiana when the Pacers drafted Leonard with the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but traded him away to the Spurs, where he would win the first of his two NBA championships.
A year earlier, George was the No. 10 selection by the Pacers in the NBA Draft. As their respective careers have blossomed, so did their desires to play alongside one another. Leonard is excited at the prospect of finally being able to play with George, he stated during the press conference.
“When I got drafted to the Pacers, I’m like, ‘they already have a two-way player pretty much,’ but as our career moves forward, I’ll see how it develops here, how it develops. I wonder if we would have stayed in Indiana…but we’re here together in L.A., both Southern Cal (California) guys, playing right down the street with each other in the (Anaheim) Honda Center-not with each other-but (in a) game(s) one another in the championship game. (I’ve) been watching him since then. Now we’re on the Clippers, it’s just I think we’ve got something special. We can make history here.”
On what it means to have young people watching how he and Leonard come back to their roots, George sees it as a chance to do what was passed down to him from an NBA icon.
“For me, I grew up a Clippers fan,” George said. “As much as a Clippers fan I was, I was a Kobe (Bryant) fan. Kobe was like my idol growing up. So, I think now with what me and Kawhi can do, we need to inspire that next generation to want to go out there on the court. I think how we play an All-Star in the NBA, where guys want to get after it on both ends, and that’s how Kobe was for me. He was a guy who didn’t care who he was matched up against, who he was playing against. He was going to beat them on both ends, and that was I used to watching growing up. So, I think for us, we get the same opportunity to give back to the next generation.”
As far as being able to work alongside the great player that Leonard has become, George doesn’t believe that will be a problem. He stated that his goal is to be part of a ballclub aiming for higher achievements.
“For me, it was a chance to come back home and be a part of something that was already special,” George said. “I’m not a guy to in here with an ego, with…I’m the man. I want to be part of something special. I want to help build something special. This is surreal to be home and do it for a team that I grew up and wanted to be a part of ever since they missed on me in the (NBA) draft…that wasn’t on Steve’s (Clippers owner Steve Ballmer) time.”