As fears mounted that the Los Angeles Lakers had pushed to the cusp of creating an unprecedented Big Three, the LA Clippers made a blockbuster trade for Oklahoma City‘s Paul George — and cleared the path for free-agent Kawhi Leonard to sign a four-year, $141 million contract with the Clippers, league sources told ESPN.
The Clippers became the last line of defense for the balance of power in the NBA — never mind the franchise’s own future. The Clippers had come to believe that, without a deal for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers and create a Staples Center partnership with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, sources said.
Had Leonard joined the Lakers, they would have been overwhelming title favorites, and it perhaps would have thrust the Clippers back into the franchise’s dark ages. Now the Clippers are in Western Conference contention, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Lakers — as well as the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.
George and Leonard wanted to play together, and George and his agent, CAA’s Aaron Mintz, approached Thunder general manager Sam Presti in recent days and requested a trade, league sources said. Leonard’s message to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank was essentially this: Get George, and you’ll get me.
Before free agency started, the Clippers knew they needed a second star to lure Leonard but had no idea whom he wanted. The Clippers inquired on deals for Washington‘s Bradley Beal and New Orleans‘ Jrue Holiday, but those guards weren’t available in trades. Eventually, Leonard made his intentions known to the Clippers: Paul George.
To Leonard, the cost was immaterial. He wanted to walk into a championship contender and believed George represented the co-star he needed to combat James and Davis, sources said. Leonard wanted to play for Doc Rivers, a coach with whom he could feel a kinship he felt was similar to his relationship with Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources said.
In the end, Presti made the best of an impossib