Four months after Kawhi Leonard told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he urged the San Antonio Spurs to trade for Paul George in 2017, George confirmed to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that he also requested a trade to San Antonio two years ago, completing a combination punch that should stagger Spurs fans.
"I wanted to be traded to San Antonio," George told Youngmisuk. "We wanted to go to San Antonio first, and we didn't make that happen."
Leonard and George joined forces on the Los Angeles Clippers over the summer. Reports conflicted about the level to which the former pushed the latter to request a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to L.A. during Leonard’s free agency. At their introductory press conference, George said the partnership “was destined” after they also nearly became teammates when the Indiana Pacers traded their rights to Leonard for George Hill in a draft-day deal one year after selecting George with the No. 10 overall pick.
George’s revelation lends credence to the idea that their desire to play together was more than just a last-minute free-agency pitch by the Clippers to Leonard. It also diverges from the notion that George locked on the Los Angeles Lakers when asking out of Indiana in 2017. It could also be revisionist history.
Whatever you want to believe, George twisted the knife that Leonard has repeatedly plunged into San Antonio’s back since demanding his trade in 2018. As if watching Leonard win a championship with the Toronto Raptors last season was not enough, now Spurs fans are left to wonder whether the title favorite that the Clippers constructed this past summer could have been built in their backyard two years ago.
According to Youngmisuk, the Spurs “lacked the assets” to acquire George in 2017. The Pacers traded George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in a deal that was panned at the time. The development of both players inched it closer to an even swap, even as George submitted a top-three MVP candidacy in Oklahoma City, and then tilted it in Indiana’s favor once he asked out of OKC.
Believing he could sign George in 2018 free agency, then-Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson was unwilling to part with either Brandon Ingram or the No. 2 pick he used to draft Lonzo Ball, instead offering late first-round picks and either Julius Randle or Jordan Clarkson for George, according to reports at the time. The working theory was that neither the Lakers nor most other suitors would sacrifice top-flight assets for a player they thought would land in L.A. in a year regardless.
According to reports in June 2017, the Spurs were among the teams “aggressively” pursuing George, along with the Lakers, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers and, apparently, OKC. Credit to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, who reported at the time that not only were the Spurs “serious players” for his services, but also that George “would have serious interest in” San Antonio. Kyler’s source also said then that George would not commit to staying beyond the 2017-18 season.
In retrospect, the Spurs could have built a package around Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, but neither late first-round pick was regarded as a blue-chip prospect at the time. If George really wanted to play with Leonard in 2017, he probably could have limited the market by outsourcing his preference to play in San Antonio and unwillingness to re-sign elsewhere, much the same way Anthony Davis did with the Lakers this past summer. Spurs fans can at least tell themselves George did not want it bad enough.
George and Leonard are slated to play their first Clippers game together against Boston on Wednesday.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: