NBA Free Agency: Clippers sign Kawhi Leonard, acquire Paul George in trade

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After weeks of speculation and six long days of waiting after NBA free agency opened on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard is signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.

First reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo, the news broke just before 2 a.m. Eastern time, as Leonard was the last major piece of a wild week of NBA free agency. He’s expected to sign a four-year, $142 million max deal.

Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.

— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 6, 2019

It seemed largely expected in recent days that the NBA Finals MVP was likely to either re-sign with the Toronto Raptors or join LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers, but Leonard flipped the basketball world on its head instead.

With Kevin Durant’s health an uncertainty after an Achilles tear in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Leonard was the most coveted name in free agency after leading the Raptors to their first-ever NBA title and ascending to superstardom during the 2018-19 playoffs, establishing himself as perhaps the best player in the league in the process. A three-time All-NBA selection and one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders, Leonard was the driving force of an unlikely Toronto title win in his sole season north of the border.

With one superstar secured, Jerry West and the Clippers weren’t done, as within minutes of the Leonard news breaking, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Clippers were also trading a “record-setting collection of draft picks” to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George, an incredible double coup of two of the league’s biggest stars.

Sources: Oklahoma City is getting a massive package of future picks, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Galllinari, to deliver Kawhi Leonard who he wanted to partner with: Paul George. https://t.co/4bGpMNat8K

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019

Per Wojnarowski, the Clippers are sending the Thunder four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-rounder and two pick swaps, along with Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a package that dwarfs even the Pelicans’ haul received in exchange for Anthony Davis.

OKC acquired THREE unprotected first-round picks from the Clippers in this trade (2022, 2024 and 2026), league sources say, PLUS two firsts from Miami (2021 unprotected and 2023 protected 1-to-14) ... AND the right to swap picks with the Clips in 2023 and 2025. Staggering

— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 6, 2019

Leonard had reportedly been recruiting George to join him in Los Angeles, and the latter requested a trade out of Oklahoma City a year after signing a huge contract extension in a surprise move to stay with the Thunder last summer.

Kawhi Leonard has been recruiting Paul George to find a way to get to the Clippers and LA pulled it off tonight: George goes to the Clippers with Leonard, and together they walk into Staples Center to go head-to-head with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019

A star in his own right, George is coming off perhaps his best season in the NBA, as he was both First Team All-NBA and First Team All-Defense, posting even better numbers that Leonard did this season while leading the league in steals as a menace on the perimeter. George put up 28 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per night this season, finishing third in MVP voting behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden.

A pair of Los Angeles natives, Leonard and George have been repeatedly floated as candidates to join James and the Lakers over the last year, but are instead teaming up in the Staples Center’s other home locker room to quickly make the Clippers a serious contender to come out of the Western Conference and vie for a title.

Doc Rivers now has two superstars in Leonard and George to form a core with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrel, adding two of the league’s very best to a team that took two games from the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.

The package the Clippers put together for George may be more draft capital and assets than any team has ever given up to get a star, but in pairing Leonard and George, have suddenly catapulted themselves to the very top of the NBA’s title favorites.