Kawhi, PG spoke all season: ‘No surprise’ he left

NBA

LAS VEGAS — Kawhi Leonard talked with Paul George throughout the season about his contract negotiations and said he was not surprised when George left to sign with Philadelphia.

In his first comments about George’s departure, Leonard said Friday that he and George knew what needed to happen for the duo to stay together with the Clippers.

George ended up signing a four-year, $212 million deal in free agency with the Sixers.

“We knew what it was before the season,” Leonard said after USA Basketball’s practice on Tuesday. “We knew what it was going to come down to. So we talked the whole way through.

“It’s no surprise.”

Clippers head coach Ty Lue told ESPN that he talked several times with George in an effort to keep him with the Clippers. He said “it was tough” losing his All-Star guard in free agency.

“You lose an important piece to the team like PG, it’s hard to replace,” Lue, an assistant coach for USA Basketball, told ESPN. “I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to get the deal done, disappointed he didn’t come back. It’s tough for the organization. We got to see how we move forward from here.

“I talked to him many times, trying to see what his mindset was, what we need to do different, how we can help his process along. It’s unfortunate that he left.”

George said on his podcast, “Podcast P with Paul George,” that the Clippers initially offered him a two-year deal worth $60 million, which he described as “disrespectful.” George detailed that the Clippers inched their offer up through the season.

When the Clippers signed Leonard to a three-year, $150 million extension in early January, George said he would have accepted the same deal. But George said talks were tabled around the All-Star break and that once the season was over, he said he would take the same extension but with a no-trade clause, something the Clippers were unwilling to do.

George said before signing with Philadelphia that it was important for him to talk with Leonard to let him know of his decision, and that Leonard was supportive. George expressed disappointment about not being able to play alongside Leonard and finish what they set out to do in Los Angeles.

Leonard decided to sign with the Clippers in the summer of 2019 as a free agent, with George joining him after being traded from Oklahoma City. Playing with championship expectations annually, the two stars were unable to get the Clippers past the Western Conference Finals in 2021 due to injuries.

The Clippers were able to keep James Harden, who agreed to a two-year, $70 million free agent deal.

In a media session with select reporters on Sunday, Leonard said he supported George’s decision but otherwise did not answer questions about him. He was asked Tuesday how much he will have to shoulder this coming season without George.

“How much will be on me to lead the team?” Leonard said. “The same like it was last year. It don’t change.”

Leonard has not been able to finish the past two postseasons because of right knee injuries. He tore his right meniscus after the first two games of a five-game first-round loss to Phoenix two postseasons ago. He missed the final three games of the Clippers’ six-game first-round loss to Dallas this postseason because of inflammation in his surgically repaired right knee.

Leonard said his knee has felt good so far during USA’s training camp and plans to suit up on Wednesday against Canada in an exhibition game.

“Yeah, I think I’ll suit up tomorrow,” Leonard said. “Everything’s been good so far. [The knee has] been at a neutral state, and I hope it stays that way.”

Lue said Leonard has looked good so far in USA camp.

“He’s been good, the best I’ve seen him move since he got injured [on Mar. 31],” Lue told ESPN. “Moving really good. It’s good to see him healthy and trending in the right direction.”

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