How the Clippers can make their anti-pitch to Kawhi Leonard

What could possibly compel a player who just won an NBA championship and a Finals MVP award to ditch his existing team?

For the LA Clippers, who have been eyeing Kawhi Leonard since his exodus from the San Antonio Spurs to the Toronto Raptors nearly a year ago and even sent senior basketball officials to observe him at Raptors games this season, this is the riddle they must solve. As a rule, challengers looking to unseat incumbents during good times typically face long odds; people looking for prosperity and stability aren’t inclined to switch things up when times are prosperous and nfl jerseys china nike

Had the Raptors flamed out against the Philadelphia 76ers or even in the Eastern Conference finals versus the Milwaukee Bucks, the Clippers could have approached Leonard with the proposition that there’s a natural ceiling to what he can accomplish in Toronto. But with the Raptors writing a storybook ending to their Season of Kawhi, the Clippers have a much more daunting task than they did even two months ago convincing Leonard to change course.

But if love of Southern California is one of Leonard’s defining features, so is an insistence on structure and professionalism. Those who have observed Leonard during his one season as a Raptor describe an athlete who moves with uncommon precision through a full day at the training facility, and expects it to run like clockwork — no matter which postal code that facility sits in. By every account, Leonard already has that in Toronto and would demand it with the Clippers.5

One of the cardinal virtues of the Clippers’ current brass is the belief that they should never have to use the market as a selling point for prospective free agents. Although they appreciate that NBA players are drawn to the region, the Clippers feel it is imperative to become the kind of organization that wins recruiting battles based on the quality of their management, culture and infrastructure. In this regard, the Clippers think they have a compelling pitch to Leonard as an organization that has spent the past two seasons sculpting itself into the kind of workplace that appeals to Leonard’s sensibilities.

A perennial laughingstock for decades under the ownership of Donald T. Sterling, the Clippers spent recent seasons climbing their way up from the ranks of the NBA’s dregs. It took years to rebrand the franchise in the imaginations of players and agents and to build the infrastructure to catch up with the rest of the league. (There are still plenty of NBA players who were active when the Clippers practiced in a health club in El Segundo.)

The 2019 Clippers bear little resemblance to their namesake of a decade ago. Sterling has been replaced by Steve Ballmer, the wealthiest owner in North American sports. Ballmer has invested significant resources into accelerating the Clippers’ makeover, including a massive renovation to the training facility currently underway, with the most advanced arena in the NBA to follow in five nike nfl jerseys wholesale

A front office that less than a decade ago could have fit into a compact SUV is now one of the NBA’s deeper basketball operations departments. It’s a thoughtful, forward-thinking group that has already demonstrated an ability to evaluate talent, build and refine systems, and identify the kind of NBA organization it wants the Clippers to be. They can point proudly to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the process that acquired him in a draft-day trade last June, the Kawhi-ish manner in which he comports himself, and the quality of his development over the course of his first-team All-Rookie season.

The Clippers are well aware that Leonard has already priced his love of the region into the equation. Leonard grew up in Southern California’s Inland Empire, before heading off to San Diego, where he played his college ball at San Diego State. Extremely protective of his private life, he keeps close quarters with a tight circle of family and dear friends — many of them located in Southern California. Those who have spent time with him in San Diego say that the impassive Leonard is a different person when he’s in his natural habitat. They describe someone who is a portrait of perfect contentment when he’s having dinner during the offseason at George’s at the Cove overlooking La Jolla Bay, or relaxing in North County with people close to him.

Perhaps the Clippers’ proximity to the places Leonard feels most at home will be enough. The informed belief that Leonard had every intention of signing in Los Angeles in 2019 was the determining factor for both the 76ers and Boston Celtics in not accepting more robust proposals by the San Antonio Spurs for Leonard last summer, according to sources with each team who were close to those negotiations.