As the rest of the NBA hurried to make their free agency decisions, Kawhi Leonard took his time.
For the Los Angeles Clippers, the wait was well worth it.
Not only have the Clippers landed Leonard, the reigning NBA Finals MVP and the most coveted free agent this summer, they also added a second marquee star to the roster in one fell swoop Friday night by agreeing to trade for Oklahoma City’s Paul George.
The Clippers will acquire George in a trade that will send forward Danilo Gallinari and prized point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, fresh off an all-rookie season, to Oklahoma City. In addition, the Clippers will send the Thunder four unprotected first-round draft picks, a protected first-round pick and they will swap two picks.
Leonard and George give the Clippers star power unlike the franchise has ever known and only weeks after the rival Lakers acquired a second massive star of their own, by pairing Anthony Davis with LeBron James.
Leonard’s move spurns his other suitors, the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors, and immediately transforms the Clippers into a contender for next season’s Western Conference championship. But Leonard’s decision is notable not only for changing the Clippers’ future. The 28-year-old Moreno Valley native, who played collegiately at San Diego State, represents the most important free agent signing in the history of a franchise that, before Friday, had never been a destination for top stars in their prime.
The Clippers sought to change that through planning that began one year ago, from the moment Leonard was traded from San Antonio, where he’d experienced a falling-out with the Spurs over the handling of a quadriceps injury, to Toronto.
That plan paid off Friday with Leonard’s decision, which was shrouded in speculation not only since the beginning of free agency Sunday, but all season. Famously reserved, Leonard allowed few, if any, details about his interest in any of his suitors to emerge publicly.
In Leonard, the Clippers are receiving a player widely regarded as the best two-way star currently playing. He averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists during the regular season with Toronto and reached another level in the postseason, averaging 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 49% from the field.
The Clippers will surround Leonard with a core of returning players who helped push Golden State, the team Leonard and the Raptors defeated in the finals, to six games during the first round of the postseason. That includes Patrick Beverley, who agreed Sunday to re-sign with the team on a three-year contract worth $40 million. On Monday, the Clipper added small forward Maurice Harkless as part of a four-team trade.
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