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Clippers really doubled their efforts

Andrew Greif, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

LAS VEGAS -- On one arena sideline Saturday afternoon, the Los Angeles Clippers staked out their territory. Flanked by a pair of assistants, coach Doc Rivers squeezed into a seat near guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams.

Down a baseline, the Los Angeles Lakers held court. LeBron James and Anthony Davis sat side by side, one massive set of shoulders next to the other.

They were inside Thomas & Mack Center to watch their teams play each other in an NBA Summer League game, and at halftime, the parties mingled. Rivers laughed with James, slapping backs. Davis greeted Jerry West, the Hall of Fame player, executive and Clippers consultant.

Their easy laughs and smiles at a low-stakes summer matchup belied the contentious competition between the teams since free agency opened June 30 as each courted top free agent Kawhi Leonard.

By choosing the Clippers late Friday night, following the team's stunning trade for Oklahoma City forward Paul George, Leonard rebuffed the Lakers, a franchise accustomed to being the preferred destination for stars.

The Clippers have had marquee players before, but nearly every one arrived without a say in the matter -- by draft, or trade. That Leonard and George, Southern California natives, chose the Clippers over the Lakers was likened to a watershed moment.

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Leonard's decision was the result of a dogged pursuit by the Clippers over the past year, and an equally aggressive effort by the Lakers in recent weeks. Neither team believed they were out of the Leonard sweepstakes until the very end.

The final push began Monday when Leonard and a few close associates met with a Clippers contingent at Rivers' house in Malibu. Rivers made an impassioned pitch to Leonard, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

They left believing they had a shot at Leonard if they could deliver a second star to play alongside him.

The next day, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and general manager Rob Pelinka huddled with Leonard, his uncle, Dennis Robertson, and agent, Mitch Frankel, in a meeting room at the Westlake Village Four Seasons. For more than two hours, the Lakers outlined why Leonard's best fit was playing on a team that already included two of the NBA's biggest names, James and Davis.

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