It was true during the N.B.A. playoffs and again in a stunning free-agent twist that played out early Saturday morning: Kawhi Leonard does things his own way — and at his own pace.
After a week of deliberations that generated much curiosity but also impatience around the league, Leonard decided to leave the Toronto Raptors, not even a month after leading them to the championship, and to commit the next four years of his career to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Leonard did so only after the Clippers managed to swing an equally stunning trade to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, ensuring that Leonard would be joined by another elite player on his new team.
Leonard was pursued aggressively by the Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Raptors. Toronto could offer a five-year deal worth $190 million, while the Lakers pitched the opportunity to form the league’s starriest trio alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
By persuading Leonard to accept their four-year, $142 million offer, Clippers officials upstaged their competition after being dismissed by many league observers over the past week. Outdueling the more celebrated Lakers, in particular, gave the Clippers bonus satisfaction reminiscent of the Nets’ recent coup in beating out the Knicks to reach agreements with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
This caps a particularly tumultuous free-agency period with upward of 50 players shifting in deals amounting to more than $3 billion.
When the Fourth of July holiday passed without a decision from Leonard, after pitch meetings from his three primary suitors, numerous league observers openly wondered what was taking so long. It turns out that Leonard was using the extra time to recruit George to join him with the Clippers, who have labored in the Lakers’ shadow in Los Angeles for nearly four decades.
Leonard successfully persuaded George to request a trade away from the mercurial point guard Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, according to two people close to the negotiations who were not authorized to discuss them publicly. The Clippers then presented Oklahoma City with a substantial trade offer that the Thunder could not refuse, especially when the alternative was keeping Westbrook and George with little financial fl