The blockbuster NBA move pairing up Paul George and Kawhi Leonard almost took place north of the border.
As the Los Angeles Clippers were negotiating a deal that included a trade for George and signing free agent Leonard, the Oklahoma City Thunder reportedly offered a similar deal to the Toronto Raptors. As ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski reported, Thunder general manager Sam Presti offered a package of Paul George and Russell Westbrook to the Raptors for NBA Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam and a host of draft picks.
As the report noted, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri was unable to compete with the offer from the Clippers.
“Ujiri couldn’t keep up with the Clippers’ willingness to unload unprotected first-round picks into the middle of the next decade, league sources said,” the report noted. “Simply, Toronto didn’t have the depth of picks it needed to get a deal done — nor the certainty that getting George would make Leonard stay with the Raptors, sources said.”
It’s not clear how close the Raptors were in the running to land Paul George or Russell Westbrook, and the report hinted that Presti was using the Raptors for more bargaining leverage. It may have been a successful tactic since the Clippers agreed to a historic haul. The Thunder gets a promising young player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander along with veteran Danilo Gallinari and the largest-ever contingent of first-round picks — four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-round pick, and two pick swaps.
While Russell Westbrook made it through the early morning trade as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, it may not stay that way for long. As The Inquisitr noted, several NBA insiders believe that Westbrook will remain on the trade block now that the Thunder has moved into a rebuilding phase. It’s not clear yet what teams might be showing interest for the former NBA MVP, or what kind of haul the Thunder could get in return after already building up a cache of draft picks for George.
ESPN story on OKC’s Sam Presti leveraging the Clippers and Raptors on a Paul George trade, a deal ultimately dictating the balance of power in the NBA. https://t.co/Etm0YwVLmB
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
As ESPN noted, Kawhi Leonard’s decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers creates a major shift of balance in the NBA. Instead of joining the Los Angeles Lakers and making the team an immediate title contender, Leonard’s decision will ensure that the Western Conference remains competitive and give the Oklahoma City Thunder the assets to spark a deep rebuild. It’s not clear where the Toronto Raptors will go next after losing out on Leonard and guard Danny Green bolting for the Los Angeles Lakers.