Clippers Make Watershed Moves By Adding Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
The Clippers on Saturday agreed to sign Kawhi Leonard to a four-year max contract and acquire Paul George via trade, a "franchise defining moment that will forever change the perception of the team long viewed as the Lakers' 'little brother,'" according to Arash Markazi of the L.A. TIMES. It is the "most recent and significant move for a franchise that has been reshaping and redefining itself" since Owner Steve Ballmer bought the team five years ago for $2B. The Clippers, for the first time since moving to L.A. 35 years ago, have "officially stepped out of the shadows of the Lakers" (L.A. TIMES, 7/7). USA TODAY's Jeff Zillgitt wrote this is a "monumental moment -- perhaps the biggest? -- in Clippers history." The messages from Ballmer, President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank and coach Doc Rivers is that they are "going for a championship" in '19-20 (USATODAY.com, 7/6). In L.A., Andrew Greif wrote the fact that both Leonard and George "chose the Clippers over the Lakers was likened to a watershed moment" (L.A. TIMES, 7/7). In DC, Ben Golliver wrote losing Leonard to the Lakers would have "further entrenched the Clippers as the 'little brother'" in L.A. Instead, they "get the last laugh" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 7/6).
POWER MOVE: In N.Y., Scott Cacciola writes with "one bold strike, the Clippers managed to outshine the Lakers." That it was the Lakers who lost out on Leonard "must make it that much sweeter for the Clippers, who have always had second-class status in their own city" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/8). THE ATHLETIC's Zach Harper wrote the Clippers now "have the opportunity to carve into" the Lakers' L.A. foothold. The Clippers adding Leonard is "one of the most impressive acquisitions in the history of sports" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/5). In Denver, Mike Singer wrote the Clippers "tilted the NBA's pecking order." The Lakers not landing Leonard or George is a "massive win for the rest of the NBA" (DENVER POST, 7/7). In L.A., Bill Plaschke wrote the Clippers have "earned every bit of the awe that's being showered upon them." They "moved smartly and strongly" to get both players, "even at great cost, because that's what focused and unified organizations do" (L.A. TIMES, 7/7).
WORTH THE PRICE: The Clippers will send four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two first-round pick swaps, in addition to G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and F Danilo Gallinari, to the Thunder in exchange for George, and THE ATHLETIC's Jovan Buha wrote that is a "monster haul." The Clippers "didn't trade for just George; they essentially traded for Leonard, too." That package, for "two top-10 players in their primes, is clearly worth it" (THEATHLETIC.com, 7/6).
CALLING THE SHOTS: In N.Y., Marc Stein cited a source as saying that Leonard "informed the Clippers heading into free agency that joining them was his preference," but only if they "could pair him with another All-Star." If not, Leonard was "prepared to stay with the Raptors" or "perhaps accept the Lakers' invitation." Sources said that Leonard and his reps also recruited Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant to "join him on the Clippers." After those players went elsewhere, Leonard spent the past week "successfully persuading George to request a trade" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/7). Meanwhile, in Toronto, Bruce Arthur wrote as Leonard's camp "made escalating demands, the Raptors began to feel that Kawhi and his people were focused" on L.A. The Raptors and Thunder engaged in trade talks, but the Raptors "never got the sense" that the Thunder were "truly serious about making a deal." Sources said that for the last few days before Leonard announced his decision, the Raptors "did not believe" he was "serious about returning to Toronto" (TORONTO STAR, 7/7).
BUCKLE UP: In L.A., Dan Woike in a front-page piece wrote Staples Center will be the epicenter of the NBA for "at least 82 games next season -- because four of the NBA's seven best players are now either Lakers or Clippers." It will be "up to those players to see if the Lakers and Clippers can deliver something Los Angeles has never seen: a real rivalry between NBA teams playing under the same roof" (L.A. TIMES, 7/7). In Boston, Gary Washburn notes for the "first time since the Clippers moved" to L.A. in '83, "both teams will be equally excited and equally desperate for success" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/8).