Despite sitting at No. 8 in the Western Conference -- in the lead-up to the NBA's trade deadline on Thursday -- the Los Angeles Clippers traded away a number of key contributors, most notably forward Tobias Harris, who was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers in a multi-player deal. As noted by CBS Sports, these trades resulted in the Clippers freeing up $59 million in salary cap space, which could allow the team to sign two free agents on maximum contracts in the 2019 offseason. While the Clippers have several players to choose from, a recent report has hinted at who these two top-tier acquisitions might be.
In a report published Thursday for subscriber-only sports outlet the Athletic, Sam Amick wrote that the Clippers are still intent on signing two of the NBA's top forwards — Kawhi Leonard of the Toronto Raptors and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors — once they become eligible for free agency this summer. Per NBC Sports, this comes close to two months after ESPN's Brian Windhorst first reported that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is hoping to sign one or both of the aforementioned superstar forwards, and turn his team into one of the NBA's "premier franchises" in the coming years.
"There's still an overwhelming sense around the league that Durant is destined to sign with the Knicks, but [trading Tobias Harris] was as clear a sign of any that the Clippers aren't giving up on their grand plan of landing Durant and Kawhi Leonard this summer," Amick wrote, as quoted by NBC Sports.
"This is no state secret: It has been Durant and Leonard — and then everyone else —for quite some time now."As noted by NESN on Saturday, the Los Angeles Clippers have long had their eyes on Kawhi Leonard, considering the fact that he grew up in Southern California, and reportedly hopes to play for one of Los Angeles' two NBA teams. However, Forbes pointed out that the Raptors could convince Leonard to stay in Toronto, first by offering a five-year, $190 million extension once the free agency period starts in July, then by possibly selling him on how several other Raptors could "take the media pressure" off the reticent forward.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant has frequently been linked to the New York Knicks in recent weeks, with NBC Sports pointing out that the Warriors believe the chances of "KD" leaving for New York have "never felt more real." However, the outlet added that it wouldn't be farfetched if Durant signed for the Clippers. The 30-year-old forward has been known to have a lot of respect for Clippers board member Jerry West, who was working for the Warriors at the time he signed with the team in 2016.
With more than four months remaining before the start of the 2019 offseason, there are still a number of things that could happen, and several other teams that could pursue Leonard and/or Durant. But as NESN posited, the Los Angeles Clippers appear to have prepared in advance, given their recent pre-trade deadline moves.