On this day in 2019, the Los Angeles Clippers made the biggest moves of the decade. Kawhi Leonard was destined to go to the Los Angeles Lakers. They had waited till the last hour for him and had not signed anyone else. Then, out of the blue, one of the biggest “Woj bombs” of the past year dropped. “Free-agent forward Kawhi Leonard has informed runners-up teams of his plans: He’s signing with the Clippers,” tweeted ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, dismantling the Lakers plans.
Basketball fans, especially Lakers fans, hadn’t recovered from that setback when in another “Woj bomb“ revealed that Paul George was traded to the Clippers. The Clippers gave away a mind-boggling seven picks (two swaps) along with upcoming star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 2019 Free Agency boasted a few more big names like Kevin Durant. He joined the Brooklyn Nets in a similar move, where he arrived along with another star player, Kyrie Irving. But before he left for Brooklyn, Leonard had tried to recruit him to Los Angeles. ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne reported Leonard called Durant, who was “flattered and more than a little stunned.”
Durant eventually left for Brooklyn along with Irving and another friend DeAndre Jordan. But Leonard already had a back-up for Durant in fellow LA native Paul George. He had been texting and calling him, convincing him to leave OKC.
GM Sam Presti then anchored two trades that day, to set up his organization for the future. After trading George for a young star and seven picks, he sent Russell Westbrook, who wouldn’t want to be the sole star in OKC, to Houston. In return, OKC received four picks and the perfect mentor for his young team in Chris Paul.
So all along, Leonard was looking to sign with the Clippers and establish his own legacy. In a pursuit to form a trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers lost out on many free agents. This was an added bonus for the Clippers, who, acquiring George and Leonard, immediately became title favorites.
As we head into the Orlando bubble, they are still among the favorites to win it all. After giving up their future, will the Clippers be able to win in the present? Will Kawhi Leonard enter history books by becoming the first player to win Finals MVP with three teams? We’ll have to wait and watch.