IT STARTED INNOCENTLY enough, with George calling Leonard — whom he'd known since their high school days in Southern California — a few days after the Raptors won the championship.
"It was congratulating him on winning," George says. "That's how it started ... then it took on a life of its own."
Once the two Southern California boys began talking, "it just trickled from there," George says.
There were countless text messages and phone calls and then two in-person meetings at Drake's house in Hidden Hills, California. (Drake had befriended Leonard during his season in Toronto and let Leonard — who lives in San Diego — stay there when he was in Los Angeles for free-agent meetings.) By July 1, they had decided to put their plan in motion: Leonard told the Clippers that he was interested in playing for them but only if they could improve their roster by adding an All-Star-caliber player like George.
The next day, Leonard met with George in Los Angeles. Shortly after their meeting, George's agent placed a call to Thunder president Sam Presti, asking if he would look for a trade to help George and Leonard play together.
Presti was stunned, but he said he'd consider it. His only request was to meet with George face-to-face before proceeding. He flew to Los Angeles on the evening of July 2 and saw George on July 3. George reiterated the request and talked through his reasons for wanting to make such a move — he wanted to play with Leonard but mostly wanted to play at home — just a year after re-signing with the Thunder.
It wasn't what Presti wanted to hear, but he respected the way George went about it. Presti said he'd look for trades that would help him play with Leonard and made sense for the Thunder.
Over the July Fourth holiday, the Thunder opened conversations with the Clippers and the Raptors. The Clippers were clearly the favored destination, and they were deeply engaged in creating a package that would net them George and Leonard.
The pair kept in constant communication, even meeting again at Drake's house after Leonard returned from a meeting in Toronto, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
The Clippers weighed whether giving up promising rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari and a historic haul of five future first-round picks was too much. At several moments, the deal nearly collapsed under its own weight.
"We were optimistic," George says. "But we were still unsure."
Eventually, the Clippers decided to pay the steep price. They weren't just getting George. They were ensuring that Leonard would pick them too.
George got word that the deal was complete from his agent. Then he called his parents.