The basketball world is in awe after the LA Clippers reportedly made separate moves to acquire All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to ramp up an already-eventful Free Agency period.
MORE: Kawhi agrees to join Clippers | Clippers trade for George
It's an unprecedented move for Leonard, who leaves the Toronto Raptors just three weeks after leading them to the first NBA title in franchise history in his lone season with the team.
LA's subsequent move to acquire George, who was a finalist for both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Awards this season, indicates that Leonard had a strong desire to pair with another superstar of his calibre.
In a report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski following the trade, it was revealed that the Raptors had preliminary discussions with the Thunder about acquiring both George and All-Star guard Russell Westbrook but ultimately, the price was too high.
"Had Presti been able to strike a deal for George with the Raptors -- and Leonard was willing to stay -- George was believed to be willing to join the Raptors too, sources said. Presti had been willing to pursue a package of Russell Westbrook and George to the Raptors, but no talks ever gained traction, sources said. Ujiri and Raptors GM Bobby Webster had no ability, nor inclination, to counter the Clippers' offer with a multitude of first-round picks into the middle of next decade, league sources said."
Per Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, the Thunder's demands included Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and a number of unprotected first-round picks.
Updated: Oklahoma City asked for Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and four unprotected first-round picks as a starting point for Paul George. The Raptors believed they were being used as leverage, and believed Kawhi finally, truly wanted LA. And then he left. https://t.co/47683mDtn2- Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) July 6, 2019
The Clippers, of course, put forth a package of historic proportions to acquire George; LA sent five first-round picks (four unprotected) and two pick swaps along with rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, who was the team's second-leading scorer.
MORE: Is Siakam ready to take over? | Can Raptors build around Siakam?
While Toronto has a rising star of its own in Siakam, Wojnarowski reported that the team clearly could not compete with the number of draft assets LA had to offer. He added that even with the Thunder's former All-Star duo, it was still no guarantee that Leonard would have elected to re-sign with Toronto.
"The Raptors could have been looking at adding Westbrook, with four years and $171 million left on his deal, and George to a team that Leonard still might have parted ways with. Toronto extended itself as far as it could for Leonard, but Ujiri could never be sure that the Thunder even wanted to do a deal with them…"
Leonard leaves the Raptors having put forth one of the most impressive postseason runs in NBA history - the 28-year-old averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds over 24 games as Toronto defeated Golden State in six games in the NBA Finals.
George is coming off a career year in which he averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals over 77 regular-season games.
With two of the league's top players reportedly on board, the Clippers have emerged as an early favourite to capture the 2020 NBA title.
MORE: Which team is the title favourite? | Where do the Raptors go from here?
Despite losing its best player, Toronto looks to build upon its championship season with Siakam, the 2019 Most Improved Player, and five-time All-Star Kyle Lowry leading the charge. Lowry and Siakam are among six players that Toronto returns from its playoff rotation as free agent Danny Green announced he has reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Lakers.
With the shift of power in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors are still very much in play to remain among the elite after holding on to their assets.
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