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Clippers acquire Paul George, recruited by Kawhi Leonard, in reported blockbuster deal with Thunder: Trade Grades

The Los Angeles Clippers acquired a superstar forward late Saturday night, just hours before the end of the free agency Moratorium. The forward grew up in California and, when he grew dissatisfied with the team that drafted him, it was no secret that he wanted to go home. That plan became complicated, though, when he was traded elsewhere and had a much better time than he had expected to. The Clippers needed everything to line up perfectly in order to get him.

I am talking, of course, about Paul George, who asked the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade him to the Clippers after Kawhi Leonard had pitched him on teaming up in Los Angeles, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Leonard will sign with the Clippers as a free agent, immediately creating a new Western Conference superpower. 

Oklahoma City will reportedly receive an enormous bounty in exchange for George: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-round pick and two pick swaps. Let’s grade the trade.

Clippers receive:

L.A. trade grade: A+

In a vacuum, this is not an A-plus trade. Much like the Los Angeles Lakers‘ trade for Anthony Davis, the Clippers surrendered an obscene amount of picks, essentially punting on the draft for the foreseeable future. They likely had a difficult time parting with Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-foot-6 guard who has a 6-11 ½ wingspan and will turn 21 this week. George is not quite on Davis’ level, but the difference is that the Clippers knew that this trade would lure Leonard. Oklahoma City knew that, too, which allowed Sam Presti’s front office to drive a hard bargain, even with George wanting out. All those picks were the cost of two superstars, not one.

By acquiring Leonard and George, the Clippers stole the show from the Brooklyn Nets, who successfully recruited Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. Just like the Nets, there is risk involved for the Clippers because of their incoming stars’ respective injury histories. If they are healthy, though, Los Angeles should be perennial championship contenders throughout their primes. Leonard is 28, George is 29 and both of them are all-world defenders who can score from everywhere and will make each other better. This is a dream scenario for the Clippers, who in recent days had to consider the possibility of signing zero marquee free agents, bringing back Gallinari and staying opportunistic about adding elite talent (after obsessing over Leonard all season). 

The beauty of pairing Leonard and George is that there shouldn’t be a power struggle. Leonard can be the Clippers’ leading scorer on most nights, and George is comfortable being option 1B. This trade was absolutely stunning at the moment, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that the reigning Finals MVP would want to play with another proven playoff performer who can defend multiple positions, stretch the floor and carry the offense when Leonard sits. The Clippers had to give up a whole lot of stuff to make it happen, but it is still incredible that they pulled it off. 

Just two years ago, the Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets; in early 2018, they traded Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. Who would have thought they’d have a better pair of franchise players by now?

Thunder receive:

  • Four unprotected future draft picks: Clippers’ 2022, 2024 and 2026 first-round picks, the Heat’s 2021 pick
  • Protected first-round pick: lottery-protected 2023 pick
  • Right to swap picks with the Clippers: in 2023 and 2025

OKC trade grade: A

It is never fun to lose a player of George’s caliber, but I love the haul. Gallinari played like an All-Star last season and is on a $22.6 million expiring contract, which is tradeable if the Thunder decide to do a full rebuild. As a rookie, Gilgeous-Alexander displayed the sort of feel for the game and defensive IQ that you rarely see from players his age. Immediately, he is a core part of Oklahoma City’s future. He has legitimate star potential, especially if he develops into a more willing 3-point shooter.

Ordinarily, a young player with that kind of upside would headline a trade like this. The amount of first-round picks involved, however, is historic, and it is mind-boggling to think about the fact that Los Angeles won’t have fully paid its debt until 2026. I don’t know where the Thunder’s front office will go from here, but the picks will help them add talent one way or another. 

In some ways, trading George feels like a failure. We are just a year removed from Russell Westbrook throwing him a party at the beginning of free agency. George’s decision to re-sign then was seen as a massive victory for the franchise that had spent a season recruiting him. Now, after arguably the most impressive season of his career — at least until he injured both shoulders — George has maneuvered his way to Los Angeles. This is way, way better than losing him for nothing, but it’s still a bit of a bummer. 

The silver lining, though, is that there were real questions about how far George and Westbrook were going to take this team after a couple of first-round exits. Oklahoma City had a massive payroll, which made it difficult to make moves that would meaningfully raise its ceiling. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, other teams have been aware of both George and Westbrook’s discontentment. As unimaginable as it might have seemed a year ago, gauging Westbrook’s value is now Presti’s most logical next step.