Kawhi Leonard says he was ‘very close’ to choosing Lakers, Raptors over Clippers

Kawhi Leonard almost ended up with the other team in Los Angeles or back in Toronto.

The 28-year-old forward told ESPN he was “very close” to signing with the Lakers or heading back to the Raptors this summer. But, Leonard ended up choosing the Clippers after they acquired his friend and fellow star Paul George in a trade with the Thunder.

“When (the Clippers) presented the opportunity of playing with Paul (George), it was easy, it was a yes,” Leonard told ESPN. “I said let’s get it going.”

Leonard entered free agency coming off one of the best postseason runs ever with the Raptors. He averaged 30.5 points in the playoffs, was named the Finals MVP and helped the team avoid elimination by knocking down a crazy bouncing buzzer beater in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the 76ers in the second round.

Leonard said Clippers coach Doc Rivers played a role in his decision, as well.

“I grew up a Clippers fan,” Leonard said during his introductory press conference Wednesday. “I loved the Clippers as a kid. With Doc (Rivers) being a championship head coach, that is something I wanted, an experienced coach. And the front office is very transparent with me. They want to win. It’s an opportunity for us to build our own (thing) and make history.”

George, meanwhile, reportedly asked Oklahoma City to move him to the Clippers, who ended up landing him in exchange for guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari, five future first-round selections and two pick swaps.

“This (wasn’t something) that came out of the blue,” George told ESPN. “We were all on the same page. The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do, and I did that. We played another year and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let’s move forward with other plans”

“Again, it was mutual amongst everybody. (The) Thunder got amazing packages out of it … And we all thought it was a win across the board, we all thought it was the best moment to pull the plug.”

George has made six All-Star teams during his nine-year career and finished third in the MVP voting last season.