Clippers’ shocking moves for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George shake up the NBA

Kawhi Leonard wanted to play with another star after all.

Just turns out, it was a player no one expected: Paul George. And with a team that supposedly was behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors in the Leonard sweepstakes: the Los Angeles Clippers.

And now Leonard and George – who both had expressed an interest in returning to Southern California where they grew up – have teamed up to alter the balance of power in the NBA and make the Clippers a championship contender.

To get the commitment from Leonard, the Clippers acquired George from Oklahoma City for multiple first-round draft picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.

The news – it didn’t break until 1:53 a.m. ET Saturday – was a shocker in a wild free agency period that had players changing teams left and right as soon as free agency began on Sunday.

Leonard, the MVP of the Finals for Toronto, was the last All-Star caliber player available, and the Clippers gave up significant assets to make this Leonard-George pairing possible.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. (Photo: Nick Turchiaro, USA TODAY Sports)

But the message from Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and Doc Rivers is clear: they are going for a championship in 2019-20 with a roster that features Leonard, George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.

ESPN reported Leonard and George met trying to find a way to make this happen, and the Clippers did what they had to do to make it happen. Don’t forget, Leonard and George were almost teammates in 2011-12. The Pacers drafted Leonard on 2011, a year after they selected George. But they traded Leonard to San Antonio. Almost a decade later, they’re on the same team.

The Clippers – yep the Los Angeles Clippers of Michael Olowokandi, and 12- and 10-win seasons and Donald Sterling – really pulled this off.

This is a monumental moment – perhaps the biggest? – in Clippers history, and the unexpected moves have a direct impact on four teams (the Clippers, Lakers, Thunder and Toronto Raptors) and an indirect impact on the rest of the league’s teams, especially playoff teams who think they can make a run at the title this season.

The Clippers won big; the Lakers lost and will have to fill roster slots with whoever is left in free agency; the Raptors are disappointed but they have their championship and now must contemplate their future; and the Thunder are headed for a rebuild, prompting questions about Russell Westbrook’s future with OKC.

Golden State and Houston will have to figure out how they don’t get left behind, and Milwaukee and Philadelphia see an opening to win the East.

But right now and perhaps all next season, the center of the NBA will be in Los Angeles where the Lakers-Clippers rivalry has real stakes with Leonard and George in one locker room at Staples Center and LeBron James and Anthony Davis in another.

The Clippers have been after Leonard for more than a year, and it seemed like for the longest time, they were the favorite to sign him in free agency. But then, it looked like maybe that wouldn’t happen. Toronto did everything right to re-sign him, and the Lakers offered the opportunity to play alongside James and Davis.

NBA fans in the Eastern Time Zone were in for a surprise when they awoke Saturday morning.

The NBA changed drastically in the past week, culminating with moves no one saw coming. Except for the Clippers and Leonard.

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