What an absurd turn of events.
Kawhi Leonard’s free agency has ended in an absolute stunner. The 2019 NBA Finals MVP has signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and in the process, brought Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George with him.
At around 2 a.m. ET, two stunners broke. First, Leonard was spurning the Lakers and Raptors to go to the Clippers.
Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 6, 2019
And then the real stunner: the Clippers found their second star, and it’s one of the last people you’d expect: Paul George.
Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
The Thunder will reportedly receive Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and multiple draft picks from the Clippers — four unprotected firsts, plus an additional first-rounder and two pick swaps. This was not their choice, but George reportedly requested a trade once Leonard tried to convince him to come to the Clippers.
After Leonard pushed George to find a way to get to the Clippers, Paul George approached the team and requested a trade, league sources tell ESPN. OKC was left with no choice and made the best out of a difficult situation, per sources.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
L.A. will now have George and Leonard going up against LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Unreal.
The latest rumors
Toronto’s trade for Leonard was always viewed as a one-year rental, with his reported desire to go play back home for the LA Clippers. The Raptors won the NBA championship, and Leonard still went there, armed with a superstar running mate. The Lakers were said to be in the running, but Leonard is notoriously hard to read.
Here’s all the silliness that led up to this amazing moment.
How we got here
Leonard’s desire to leave the San Antonio Spurs came as a shock. After all, the Spurs dealt George Hill for the No. 15 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft to select Leonard and add him to their championship team. It was Gregg Popovich who helped develop Leonard into the offensive superstar he has become today. Who knows how his career arcs if San Antonio never pulls the trigger on the draft day deal.
But they did, and he morphed into an NBA Finals MVP seemingly overnight. First Leonard destroyed the Miami Heat dynasty, dethroning them as repeat champions with a convincing 4-1 series win in 2014. Then, he put the Golden State Warriors — who had just added Kevin Durant to a team that won 73 games the season before — on notice in the 2016 Western Conference Finals.
But you know how that story ends. Leonard scored 26 points in 24 minutes, giving the Spurs a 24-point lead at Oracle Arena. Then he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot coming down from a jump shot in the third quarter. He grabbed his ankle and was helped off the floor, never to play again in that series. The Warriors went on to sweep the series and defeat the Cavaliers for their second championship in three years.
Landing on Pachulia’s foot morphed into a quadriceps injury that strained the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs’ medical team. He eventually sought independent doctors in New York. He played in nine games, but visibly labored and was not the same player the world was accustomed to seeing.
Leonard reportedly requested a trade, and the Los Angeles Clippers seemed to be his preferred destination. San Antonio obliged, but instead sent him and Danny Green to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and the 2019 first-round draft pick they used to select Kentucky’s Keldon Johnson — pennies on the dollar for a player of Leonard’s caliber, injured or not.
The Raptors welcomed Leonard with open arms. His opening-day press conference went viral because he laughed, awkwardly. Toronto didn’t force him to play in back-to-backs and rested him in critical stretches, like three games in four nights. He only played in 60 regular-season games, but it was enough for the Raptors to secure the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Leonard’s load was managed in the regular season so he could be unleashed in the playoffs. He wreaked havoc on Orlando, sunk the Sixers with a Game 7 rim-tapping buzzer-beater, then dominated the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals after Toronto fell behind 0-2. By the time he got to the NBA Finals, it was the Warriors who were battered, with season-ending injuries to both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and other significant injuries to DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney and Andre Iguodala.
Leonard destroyed the Warriors dynasty that had once destroyed him, giving him two Finals MVPs on two different teams. Only LeBron James has done that.
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