There are Twitter bombs, and there’s this, from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports at just short of 2 a.m. ET on Saturday morning:
And minutes later from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:
So, yeah. This happened. This is happening. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are teaming up on the Clippers, who began laying the foundation for something like this to happen over two years ago. Perhaps the most difficult decision in sports is when to cut bait on a good team in quest of a great one. Many teams hang on too long (Wizards). Others break up too fast (2012 Thunder).
But the Clippers? They did this thing to perfection. They made their run with Lob City, never got out of the second round, and began looking to the next era when they traded Chris Paul to the Rockets in 2017. Then they traded Blake Griffin to the Pistons in 2018. At this year’s trade deadline they sent Tobias Harris to the Sixers. In the process, the Clippers cleared enough cap space to sign Kawhi and acquired enough future draft picks and young talent to pull off the trade for George.
Seriously, look at the haul the Thunder got for George.
And that’s just the picks. The Thunder also got the Clippers’ prized rookie from last season, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, along with Danilo Gallinari, who averaged just under 20 points per game last year on 43 percent 3-point shooting. Nobody knows when these opportunities to put together a championship team are going to come, exactly. All you can do is put yourself in position to pounce when they do.
The Clippers had people at just about every one of Kawhi’s games this year. They changed their team on the fly and kept a playoff team on the floor. They brought Jerry West, who was instrumental in luring Kevin Durant to the Warriors in 2016, into the fold as a consultant. They doubled down on president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank. Heck, they hired famed Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins as the executive director of research and identity — which is a fancy way of saying Jenkins was brought on to construct a year-long, feel-good story about the Clippers that they could use as the backbone of their pitch to this summer’s litany of big-name free agents.
This is, quite literally, a storybook ending.
And like endings, it’s also a beginning.
The Clippers are officially title contenders now. You could make a strong argument they deserve to be the favorite, and at least one sports book already has them ahead of the field. They’re looking at a starting lineup of Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Montrezl Harrell. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Harrell, you will be. That man is a certified stud. With George, Leonard and Beverley, the Clippers have three of the best defenders in the league. They are going to switch and smother the life out of anything that moves.
Mind you, Lou Williams, who is probably one of the 10 to 15 most gifted scorers in the league, is coming off the bench. The Clippers have shooting, playmaking, defense, rebounding, a championship coach in Doc Rivers, two of the 10 best players in the league — they have it all. This is a team that took two games off the full-strength Warriors in this year’s playoffs without a single superstar. Now they have two.
Before they both took detours elsewhere, both George and Kawhi said they wanted to end up in Los Angeles, and the Clippers put themselves in position to make it happen. And now they’ve done it. When everyone thought Kawhi’s decision was down to Toronto and the Lakers, it turns out he was using all this time to tell the Clippers to go get him another star. George, who was reportedly unhappy next to Russell Westbrook, asked for the trade when Kawhi informed him of his intentions, and now here we are.
Things move fast in today’s NBA. But it was by planning slowly, one move and one year at a time, that the Clippers managed to catch up. And perhaps pull all the way ahead.