Two o’clock in the morning on the east coast, just a few hours after a literal earthquake shut down the NBA’s Summer League, didn’t feel like the most fitting time for Kawhi Leonard to make his free agency decision.
But then again, nothing about the NBA’s year-round entertainment factory is ever convenient.
In a weird, oddly satisfying fashion, Leonard signing with the Los Angeles Clippers and coaxing Paul George into demanding his way out of Oklahoma City and into L.A., was the perfect way to close up the last big signing of the free agency period. It was the 2019 offseason’s magnum opus.
And it sure was magical.
So let’s break it down real quick.
Leonard, the final prize of the summer, side-stepped any Lakers rumors (and there sure were a ton) by signing a four-year, $141 million deal with the crosstown Clippers. But as a part of the deal, Leonard made sure to bring George in the mix, too.
So the Thunder, dealing with a fresh trade demand from its best player, hit the motherload of assets and sent George to the Clips. The return was massive.
Three unprotected first-rounders in 2022, 2024, and 2026. Two more first-rounders via Miami in 2021 and 2023. PLUS, the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025. And oh yeah, Danilo Gallinari along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – the previously “untouchable” asset.
That’s a lot to deal with, but we can begin with SGA, who now slots into the OKC backcourt next to the insatiable Russell Westbrook.
Losing George – a top-3 MVP candidate from last season – would destroy the title odds for any team and the Thunder are no outlier. His impact on both the offensive and defensive end turned the Thunder into a legitimate contender before a late-season shoulder injury derailed everything. SGA and Gallinari alone cannot make up all the lost production, but it’s a great consolation prize.
Gallinari is a prolific shooter who is surprisingly swift and agile for someone his size (6-foot-10). He averaged nearly 20 points per game last season and was arguably the Clippers best overall player. But the prize here is Gilgeous-Alexander, who shined in his rookie season.
SGA showed promise as a future All-Star and an elite floor general. His shiftiness and ability to stop-and-go are unmatched, not to mention his innate basketball IQ. There’s a reason it took an MVP-caliber player to finally convince the Clippers to move him.
*Side Note* This makes me question why the Clippers didn’t pull the trigger on a potential Anthony Davis deal a few weeks ago. The deal the Thunder hauled in from the Clippers was more valuable than anything the Lakers could (and did) offer for Davis. Was the Clippers front office that convinced that Davis wanted to play with LeBron? To the point where they wouldn’t even take a chance on him for one season? Maybe this deal had been in the works longer than we could have possibly imagined.
But the focus for the Thunder will remain on SGA and Westbrook. How can those two coexist? Theoretically, it shouldn’t be a disruptive match. Gilgeous-Alexander is more of a deferring guard at this point in his career, and Westbrook will gladly eat up all those extra shots. However, it’ll be far from a perfect duo. Developing an elite lead guard into an elite lead guard means the ball needs to be in his hands. Gilgeous-Alexander needs to run the offense, control the tempo, and be as comfortable in playing his own style as possible. The odds of that happening next to Westbrook aren’t encouraging.
This brings up another potential chain reaction. What if the Thunder bottom out and send out Westbrook, too? OKC is in a great position to rebuild right now, with SGA, a slew of draft picks, a veteran scorer in Gallinari, plus younger players such as Steven Adams and Jerami Grant. A trade of Westbrook right now would still hold significant value. He’s healthy and a guaranteed All-Star. Michael Jordan trading for Westbrook and finally trying to make the Hornets relevant would be the most MJ thing ever. You already know the Knicks would love to overpay for Westbrook. OKC could bring in even more assets if they want to dive into a full-on rebuild.
Look at what New Orleans has done in just a short time since the Davis trade. The Pelicans are going to be real threats to make the playoffs next season. The Clippers literally just nabbed Leonard and George after winning 48 games in a season that was still classified as a “rebuild year”. Teams don’t have to completely shut it all down once the star leaves. And OKC still has one left. Maybe they flip the assets they received from the Clippers and turn it into Kevin Love or Bradley Beal. The front office will have several different options moving forward.
Now onto Leonard and George in Los Angeles, the new rivals of LeBron/Davis. The power dynamic of the NBA hasn’t been this balanced since I’ve been alive. You all want parity? Well, here it is. There are, like, six teams in the West that will all be title favorites at some point throughout next season. Leonard and George is a wing pairing that will form a defensive wall never seen before. Did I mention that the Clippers still have Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, AND Landry Shamet?? This isn’t just two All-Stars surrounded by cheap contracts *Cough, cough. Lakers. Cough, cough*, this is a team that will ultimately go eight or nine players deep and sniff 65 wins.
Kawhi – Paul George
LeBron – Anthony Davis
Harden – Chris Paul
Durant – Kyrie Irving
Curry – Klay Thompson
Embiid – Ben Simmons
Giannis – Khris Middleton
Jokic – Jamal Murray
Lillard – CJ McCollum
Gobert – Donovan Mitchell
Drummond – Blake Griffin
— Justin Jett (@JustinJett_) July 6, 2019
The only true losers of this trade, in my opinion, are the Toronto Raptors. And should I even consider them losers after winning the NBA Championship? I will, only because the man that delivered all the glory has already left. Immediately after Leonard signed with the Clippers, Raptors free agent Danny Green signed with the Lakers. The defending champs will head into next season not even in the top three considered to win the Eastern Conference.
As a Cavaliers fan who sold his soul for the 2016 NBA Finals victory, I know your pain, Toronto fans. But at least you have Pascal Siakam still.
(Siakam, by the way, could have been sent to Oklahoma City in a deal that could have returned both George AND Westbrook, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. As if this deal couldn’t have POSSIBLY gotten any more ridiculous.)
Now we wait to see how the league reacts. Mainly, where does DeMarcus Cousins go? Both the Clippers and Lakers could be of use for his services. Is Rajon Rondo all but guaranteed to make his return to the Lakers now? Are there still more blockbuster trades out there? The Beal rumors have spiked recently, and the Love rumors will only increase now that George is out of OKC. If you’re thinking about going to sleep during a random Friday night in the middle of the NBA’s summer. Don’t.