The Associated PressLOS ANGELES (AP) — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George laughed and cheered along with the crowd when the multibillionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers waved his arms, stomped his feet and screamed his new players’ praises in a cracking voice.
“Pretty cool. Pretty cool,” Steve Ballmer shouted with glee.
Leonard and George are already loving the Clippers’ unique vibe, and they see their future together as limitless.
Nearly three weeks after these native Southern California superstars shook up the NBA by maneuvering to play together in L.A., the Clippers’ new dynamic duo finally made its first public appearance Wednesday in a south Los Angeles community center gym.
“I think we’ve got something special,” said Leonard, the two-time NBA Finals MVP coming off a championship season in Toronto. “We can make history here. We’ve got the right team to do it.”
In explaining their decision to team up with the Clippers, Leonard and George both mentioned the importance of playing near their friends and family. Both were eager to join a team they grew up watching intently from their hometowns in the far-flung L.A. suburbs during the Clippers’ leaner years.
But Leonard and George seemed to be most impressed by this steady, cerebral franchise’s supporting cast and leadership —everyone from complementary players Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams to front-office architect Jerry West and coach Doc Rivers.
West and Ballmer structured their entire franchise specifically to attract elite talent this summer, and Leonard sees the Clippers as fertile ground to grow another champion quickly.
“It’s an opportunity for us to just build our own, you know what I mean?” Leonard said. “To make history. They haven’t been to a Finals. They haven’t won a Finals. That was something big and exciting for me.”
While Leonard joined the Clippers as a free agent, George got here through a trade with Oklahoma City. The All-NBA first-teamer described his departure from the Thunder as “a mutual thing between the both of us that the time was up” in Oklahoma City.
“I want to be a part of something special,” George said. “I want to help build something special, and this is surreal to be home and do it for a team that I grew up with, and wanted to be a part of ever since they missed out on me in the draft. But that’s another story. That wasn’t on Steve’s time, so it’s cool.”
Both Leonard and George mentioned the fact that they nearly played together with the Indiana Pacers, who drafted George in 2010 and Leonard in 2011 — only to trade Kawhi to San Antonio on draft night.
“I wish we would have stayed together,” George said. “It just seems like this was destiny. We were supposed to play together, so here we are.”
The Clippers’ long-standing reputation as a miserable franchise has receded annually during their current run of eight consecutive winning seasons. The Donald Sterling era’s flaws have been wholly erased since Ballmer bought the team seven years ago and trusted Rivers and West to run it.
Nuggets extend PG Murray
DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have signed point guard Jamal Murray to the five-year, $170 million extension that the sides agreed to last month. The deal, which runs through the 2024-25 season, was announced Wednesday by President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly.
Murray, a 22-year-old native of Kitchener, Ontario, in Canada is coming off his best season in his three years in the NBA.
The seventh overall pick in the 2016 draft out of Kentucky, Murray set career highs in points (18.2), assists (4.8) and rebounds (4.2) while helping the Nuggets to 54 wins and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
He averaged 21.3 points in the playoffs, helping Denver reach the second round for the first time in a decade.