We knew there was going to be a dramatic end to #KawhiWatch, but nobody could have predicted this.
News that Kawhi Leonard agreed to sign with the LA Clippers filtered out Friday night/early Saturday morning (depending on what side of the continent you live).
The Clippers were seen as the underdog by most pundits in the three-horse race for Kawhi’s services, that also included the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers.
But what few knew was that the Clippers were on the verge of landing another star player to put their team over the edge to land the NBA Finals MVP.
Kawhi, as it turns out, was pulling the puppet strings.
Leonard met with Clippers management at head coach Doc Rivers’ house in Malibu on Monday night, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. That’s when he told the Clippers that he wanted to play with Paul George, the Oklahoma City Thunder star and SoCal native.
So while Kawhi was meeting with the Lakers and Raptors, according to ESPN, he was also calling and texting George in an effort to convince him to find a way to force a trade.
But George wasn’t Kawhi’s first recruiting target. Shelburne also reports that Kawhi approached free agent Kevin Durant about teaming up with the Clippers, before KD ultimately chose to sign with Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan in Brooklyn.
So the Thunder and Clippers began talking trade, with both sides recognizing that acquiring George meant also securing Kawhi. Missing out on George also could have resulted in Kawhi going to the rival Lakers, making them a super team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That’s how OKC walked away with a king’s ransom.
While attempting to put the screws to the Clippers, the Thunder were prepared to offer up not one, but two of their stars to the Raptors.
The Clippers were “willing to pursue a package of Russell Westbrook and George to the Raptors,” reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but talks “never gained traction.”
Given what the Clippers were willing to give up just to get George – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick, and two pick swaps – you can only imagine what Raptors President Masai Ujiri would have needed to include to get Westbrook too.
If it took five first-round picks and two good players for George, what would adding Westbrook command? Ten first-rounders and Pascal Siakam? Drake?? The CN Tower???
In the end, Toronto didn't have assets to satisfy OKC — with or without Siakam in any proposed deal. The fear of Toronto entering into trade talks with OKC only proved to guarantee the Clippers would go the distance with five first-round picks and SGA in deal for George.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
George was willing to join the Raptors if Kawhi was willing to stay, Wojnarowski says, but there was no guarantee of that with the Lakers also an option.
In the end, the Raptors are left with nothing but great memories from an NBA championship season. And you know what? Raps would still take that any day of the week.