The LA Clippers are having a big week.
On Wednesday, they introduced Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the media in a press conference. A day later they held an event for season ticket holders and announced plans for a new arena in Inglewood that would separate them from sharing a building with the Lakers. During that event, Clippers president Lawrence Frank shared some details on how the Leonard-George pairing came along.
Leonard wanted to play for the Clippers but wanted another top player on the roster with him. Kawhi tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but those two turned to Brooklyn. Jimmy Butler was focused on the Miami Heat. And trade efforts for James Harden or Bradley Beal went nowhere. Frank says that when they put potential targets on a board for them to acquire to pair with Leonard, Kawhi said “that’s my guy” of George.
Clippers’ Lawrence Frank, at a season ticketholder event, on July 1 meeting w/ Kawhi Leonard: “We put potential targets up on the board and Paul George’s name was on there. Kawhi said, ‘That’s the guy.’”
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 26, 2019
And that’s how the partnership was born.
Kawhi actually had been pushing to team with George since their respective times with the Spurs and Pacers. When you think about all the players the Clippers realistically could have gotten to team with Leonard, George probably is the best option. That’s why the Clippers gave up so much to get them.
Kawhi Leonard made sure he found a way to team up with Paul George this offseason by essentially forcing the Los Angeles Clippers to trade for him, and that is something the NBA Finals MVP has been trying to make happen for quite some time.
ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Leonard this week when it was that he decided he wanted to play with George, and the answer was somewhat surprising. Kawhi says he was trying to get the San Antonio Spurs to make a play for George before the swingman was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I asked Kawhi when he first knew he wanted to play with Paul George:
"I was trying to get San Antonio to get him over to us. You know how things work with trades, he ended up to the Thunder. But that’s probably when the initial idea started, when he wanted to get out of Indiana."
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) July 25, 2019
Leonard obviously likes George’s game, and you can understand why. Both players are known as great defenders who can also score. Some will say there aren’t enough shots to go around for George and Leonard, but George was plenty successful playing alongside Russell Westbrook. If he touched the ball enough in OKC, he’ll be fine with the Clippers.
The difference between this offseason and several years ago is Leonard was able to manipulate his situation more, and we already know how the Los Angeles Lakers feel about that. If he’s been wanting to play with George for that long, he must have a good reason for it.
Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti has torn down the team’s roster about as effectively as you could hope for when entering a rebuilding phase, but that does not mean he is pleased with the way the offseason has gone.
Despite acquiring 15 future first-round picks by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook, Presti was apparently devastated he was essentially forced to blow the team up. One high-ranking Thunder executive tried to describe the disappointment to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.
“Sam acted like his dog died after trading Paul George,” the exec said.
However, the exec said Presti is realistic enough to know his team had reached its potential with Westbrook, and the disappointing result in the playoffs the past two years proved that.
“Sam won’t admit it, but he’s too smart to not know this team reached its ceiling with Westbrook,” he added.
For what it’s worth, other executives across the NBA praised Presti for the haul he got in return for George and Westbrook. Some even said they have the brightest future in the NBA and are fortunate Kawhi Leonard wanted to play with George so badly.
“Kawhi’s recruiting gave OKC an out,” one Western Conference executive told O’Connor. “Trading George allowed them to trade Russ without backlash.”
Presti has watched Westbrook, George, Kevin Durant and James Harden come through Oklahoma City, so you can understand why he’s crushed that all of them left town without a championship. However, he handled things masterfully with the George trade and even used some scare tactics to get the Clippers to give up an unprecedented package of draft picks. If you have to start from scratch, that is exactly how you make the most of a bad situation.
Star players have been joining forces with one another with regularity over the past several years in the NBA, but defensive ability could be what sets the 2019-20 Los Angeles Clippers apart from other so-called superteams. In fact, at least one NBA executive thinks the Clippers could have the best two-way superstar pairing since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Ben Golliver of the Washington Post spoke with several executives, coaches and scouts about the upcoming season, and most of them believe the Clippers are poised to win a championship. The main reason for that is the ability of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to both score and defend against elite players. One exec said he can’t remember a pair of two-way wings this good since the Chicago Bulls dynasty years.
“I’m not saying Kawhi Leonard is Michael Jordan and I’m not saying Paul George is Scottie Pippen,” the executive said. “But you have to go all the way back to those guys to find two [perimeter players] who can score the ball and hound their men like this.”
Another exec said the Clippers will have a “rare luxury” of being able to alternate Leonard and George on an opposing team’s best player, such as James Harden.
If the Clippers are healthy, it’s hard to imagine any team in the Western Conference being more well-rounded than them. George and Leonard can score at will and are both perennial members of the NBA All-Defensive Team, and Patrick Beverley is also considered one of the best defenders in the league. That should help them get past teams like the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers.
One of basketball’s best defensive minds has already compared the Clippers to a team that won a championship with defense, so the opinion is obviously shared by many. Will Leonard and George be Jordan and Pippen? That seems highly unlikely, but the results may be similar in the short-term.
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Russell Westbrook showed love to Paul George on Instagram following his ex-teammate’s trade to the LA Clippers.
George posted a photo of him with his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates on Instagram Saturday, along with a farewell note following two seasons with the team.
“Thank you Oklahoma for 2 great years, you took me in as one of your own from the day I touched down. Thank you to the fans who make representing those 3 letters mean something. Thank you to Sam and Clay for being the best management a franchise and player could ask for. Thank you to the friends within the organization that took care of my family and I whenever we needed help. The picture shown is a bond that can’t be broken I truly loved and enjoyed the race from start to finish. Thank you OKLAHOMA! You already know what it is @russwest44! Love brodie!” George wrote in his caption.
Westbrook left a comment saying “Love Brodie!! You know what it is!”
Paul George posts message on Instagram, Russell Westbrook comments pic.twitter.com/kBUootaYiY
— Carson Cunningham (@KOCOCarson) July 7, 2019
The message may have caught some by surprise given Westbrook’s competitive personality. He sent some passive-aggressive messages on social media after Kevin Durant ditched him last time around. But there was nothing but love this time.
Maybe that’s because George already did Westbrook a solid by committing to the Thunder in free agency when he just as easily could have left for Los Angeles then. Maybe it’s because George was up-front with Westbrook about wanting to leave for another opportunity. Maybe it’s because Westbrook knew how close he and Durant were to winning a title, only for KD to join their biggest competition, whereas this team was one that just lost in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe it’s because Westbrook knows he’s on his way out too.
Whatever the case, Westbrook showing love towards a departing teammate instead of bitterness comes as a shock to many.
Kawhi Leonard may have pulled one heck of a Don Corleone move on the Los Angeles Lakers.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported on Saturday that the Lakers met with Leonard at a Westlake Village hotel this week after the reigning Finals MVP requested that they meet there instead of in El Segundo. Shelburne also said that it appears Leonard met with Paul George nearby that very same day.
The Lakers meeting with Kawhi Leonard was Tues afternoon at a hotel in Westlake Village. Only Jeanie Buss and Rob Pelinka were there, at KL’s request. The location had been switched from El Segundo, at KL’s request, w/ in 24 hrs. It appears KL met with PG, nearby, same day.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 6, 2019
Of course, Leonard wound up turning down the Lakers to sign a four-year deal with the cross-arena rival LA Clippers and simultaneously recruited George to the team by getting him to secure a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Westlake Village is over an hour drive away from El Segundo, so if Leonard forced the Lakers contingent to make that trek just so it would be easier to plot against them, that only adds to the various layers of hurt here for them.
The narrative emerging from the Los Angeles Clippers’ acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is that the team simply felt they had no choice but to make the deals in order to fend off competition and perhaps stop a dynasty from forming in their own backyard.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Clippers believed that, unless they dealt for George, Leonard would sign with the Los Angeles Lakers to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, potentially shifting the balance of power their way for years to come.
The Clippers also feared Toronto in trade negotiations. At one point, Clippers’ brass reportedly feared that Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti was close to a deal with the Raptors that would have sent George there, a move the player would have been willing to make. Ultimately, such a deal was never close, as Presti played the Clippers against the Raptors to get a huge return for George.
The Clippers were clearly given the impression that their only chance of landing Leonard was by acquiring George, and they could have faced huge consequences if they didn’t do so. With that in mind, they simply did what they felt they had to do.