As of Saturday night, Russell Westbrook and his agent were reportedly in talks with the Thunder about the point guard’s future, in Oklahoma City or elsewhere, yet no other seismic changes had hit the franchise since the middle of the previous night.
That was when ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the following at 1:05 Saturday morning:
“Going onto SportsCenter now to report on the Clippers landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.”
The reported deal has Oklahoma City sending George to the Los Angeles Clippers, who will also be signing Leonard, a free agent after leading Toronto to an NBA championship, to a four-year, $142 million maximum contract.
In return, Oklahoma City will receive five first-round draft picks and two players: Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
OKC will receive the Clippers’ three first-round selections, unprotected, in the 2022, 2024 and 2026 drafts, meaning the Thunder will own the picks no matter how high in the draft they may fall.
The Thunder will also receive two first-round picks the Clippers owned that originated with the Miami Heat — an unprotected selection in the 2021 draft and a top-14 protected selection in the 2023 draft.
Additionally, the Thunder received the right to swap picks with the Clippers in the 2023 and 2025 drafts.
At 11:33 a.m. Saturday, ESPN’s Wojnarowski released a story describing the machinations behind the deal.
Many forces were at work.
The Clippers feared Leonard going to the Lakers, joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis, if they failed to land him themselves and saw securing George as their only ticket to land him.
The Clippers’ willingness to part with so much of their future appeared to be driven by three factors.
One, they didn’t want to be a distant second in their own city to the Lakers.
Two, had Leonard chosen the Lakers, they feared their profile dropping so precipitously, they might fall into being the Clippers of old when the organization experienced just two winning seasons between 1980 and 2011.
Three, they were dealing with Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also negotiating with Toronto, possibly swinging a deal to send George north of the border to play with Leonard there.
In the end, stunningly, Presti wasn’t just negotiating George’s departure for OKC to LA but seemingly Leonard’s from Toronto to LA, too, giving him the leverage required to receive such an historic ransom.
Also, according to the ESPN story, “George and Leonard wanted to play together, and George and his agent, CAA’s Aaron Mintz, approached Thunder general manager Sam Presti in recent days and requested a trade, league sources said.”
George and Leonard are both Southern Californians, George originally from Palmdale and Leonard, born in Los Angeles and attending high school in both Canyon Springs and Riverside.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) celebrates with Paul George after a basket during Game 3 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 19 in Oklahoma City.ap file