Details are beginning to emerge from the chaos of Friday night’s Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes.
As you likely know by now, the Los Angeles Clippers signed the reigning Finals MVP, beating out the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers for one of the more dramatic free-agent pursuits in memory.
That Leonard ultimately chose the Clippers isn’t too much of a shock — it’s been no secret that he wanted to live and play in his native L.A., and the Clippers boast a respected front office, ambitious ownership group, and a supporting cast that can keep Leonard in championship contention during the entirety of his reported four-year deal.
A bigger shock was the subsequent trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers from Oklahoma City, yielding the Thunder a historic package of first-round picks along with standout-players Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.
George, who finished third in MVP voting this past season, was reportedly recruited by Leonard to team up with him and form an incredible one-two punch on the wings, and informed the Thunder brass that he wanted to be traded.
The Thunder explored trade options with both the Clippers and Raptors, and it’s believed that, should Leonard have re-signed with the Raptors, George would have been willing to come to Toronto.
But the biggest shock? Oklahoma City was reportedly prepared to send not only George, but also 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to the Raptors in a trade for a package centred around Pascal Siakam and a haul of draft picks.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports:
Had Presti been able to strike a deal for George with the Raptors — and Leonard was willing to stay — George was believed to be willing to join the Raptors too, sources said. Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook with George to the Raptors — with the NBA’s Most Improved Player, forward Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of a deal — and Ujiri balked, league sources said.
Wojnarowski also reports, however, that this scenario was mostly used as leverage by the Thunder in order to reach an agreement with the Clippers. With Ujiri ‘balking’ at the offer and the Clippers pouncing on the opportunity to land two superstars and put a Lakers dynasty on hold before it even began, George and Leonard were L.A.-bound, and a new chapter has begun in the NBA.
Still, it’s wild to think of what a Leonard-George-Westbrook trio playing in Toronto would have looked like. Instead, the “what if” debates will live on for years in Raptorland.