Kawhi Leonard and Paul George pull off ultimate power move
The two NBA superstars are coming home to L.A. … and they did it together
LAS VEGAS — “We coming home,” Paul George exclaimed on his friend’s Instagram late Friday night. It was a declaration no one in the league saw coming. And another bold statement that the NBA’s best players hold tremendous power.
Anthony Davis’ power move got him to the Los Angeles Lakers alongside LeBron James. Kevin Durant departed the Golden State Warriors to join two of his buddies, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan, on the Brooklyn Nets. And in the most stunning move of the offseason, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard got fellow Southern California native George to team up with him on the LA Clippers.
Yes, two more star players, who had similar paths to the NBA and who several sources described as pretty good friends, somehow forced their way home together. Leonard, who just led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title, sold George on the idea of winning a championship together. Sources said Leonard and George also wanted to play for Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
It was just a year ago that George signed a four-year, $137 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Remember when PG was on stage with fellow Thunder star Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City asking fans if they would have him back? It seemed like Westbrook and George were a duo Thunder fans would cheer forever.
Los Angeles wasn’t in the picture. The native of Palmdale, California, about an hour drive outside of L.A., had even turned down a chance to meet with the Lakers as a free agent last year. George was disappointed that the Lakers had declined to trade the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA draft (Lonzo Ball) or young forward Brandon Ingram to the Indiana Pacers to acquire him, a source previously told The Undefeated.
So after the Pacers traded him to the Thunder, George re-signed for max money in Oklahoma City. In hindsight, it was a smart move to get more financial stability (the Thunder could offer the most) and figure the rest out later.
Which he did on Friday night.
According to sources, since George, Westbrook and the Thunder suffered a disappointing first-round exit in the playoffs in April, Westbrook has been quietly grumbling about the team’s struggles and may want out. George, meanwhile, beat him to the punch. George asked his agent, Aaron Mintz, to tell Thunder general manager Sam Presti not only that was he requesting a trade but also that he wanted to join forces with Leonard, sources said.
The call was a tough one for Mintz. According to a source, George and his family had felt welcomed by the Thunder organization and were treated in spectacular fashion. But the trade request demonstrated how disappointed George was with the team’s season and how much he wanted to join Leonard. A source also said traveling to Oklahoma City (and Indiana) wasn’t easy for George’s family, which is based in the L.A. area.
Mintz worked with a stunned Presti to find a fair solution for both sides, a source said. The Thunder then engaged in talks with the Clippers and Raptors, the two teams Leonard was open to playing for. (A source told The Undefeated early last week that there was “no way” Leonard was going to sign as a free agent with James, Davis and the Lakers despite speculation they were the front-runners.)
Although the Thunder were interested in Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, the 2019 NBA Most Improved Player, sources said the champs weren’t so willing to give him up. The Clippers, meanwhile, had draft picks and interesting talent to offer.
Ultimately, in order to make the pairing of Leonard and George a reality, the Clippers gave up budding point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, starting forward Danilo Gallinari and five — yes, five — first-round draft picks. Under the circumstances, George was able to help the Thunder restock for the future. The Raptors couldn’t compete with that offer. And, just like that, they had to say goodbye to the man who had led them to glory just weeks earlier.
“You can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters at summer league on Saturday. “That’s what he texted me today, ‘I’m going home.’ And I just said, ‘You’ve changed a lot of lives by what you’ve accomplished in Toronto, mine especially.’ ”
Time will tell how the Leonard-George power move will impact the NBA in the coming years. But owners and team executives are certainly on notice about how star players are controlling their own destiny.
Leonard and George are coming home. And they did it together.