After a week of deliberations, Kawhi Leonard committed to sign a free-agent contract with the Los Angeles Clippers in the early hours of Saturday morning, Leonard’s sister confirmed via Instagram.
Leonard, though, only agreed to choose the Clippers after they agreed in principle on an equally stunning trade to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to two team officials with knowledge of the deal who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Leonard will sign a four-year, $142 million contract with the Clippers, according to Yahoo Sports, which first reported that the sides had a deal.
The Clippers thus upstaged the Los Angeles Lakers, who badly wanted Leonard, in a fashion similar to the Nets beating out the Knicks to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when N.B.A. free agency began June 30.
Less than a month after leading the Toronto Raptors to the first championship in franchise history, Leonard spent the past several days meeting with officials from the Raptors, Clippers and Lakers. The ensuing deliberations sparked much curiosity and impatience around the league, especially since Leonard and his representatives insisted on silence from the teams recruiting him.
But it turns out Leonard was using the extra time to recruit George to join him with the team that has labored in the Lakers’ shadow in Los Angeles for nearly four decades. Leonard successfully persuaded George to push for a trade away from Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, according to a person close to the negotiations who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.
ESPN first reported that the Clippers had reached an agreement with the Thunder to acquire George, which clinched the signing of Leonard.
The New York Times first reported last month that Leonard would only consent to join the Clippers ahead of the Raptors or Lakers if they managed to bring in a second All-Star with him.
To make that happen, Clippers officials agreed to surrender three future unprotected first-round picks (in 2022, 2024 and 2026), two future first-round draft choices that will be conveyed to Oklahoma City by the Miami Heat (unprotected in 2021 and protected from 1-to-14 in 2023), according to one person with knowledge of the trade terms. The Thunder also will have the right to swap first-round picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025, according to the person.
The Thunder, furthermore, will acquire the promising guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, according to the person. It’s the most any team has surrendered in one trade for a superstar player, but the Clippers clearly felt that they had to part with all of those draft assets and two quality players to ensure that Leonard chose them ahead of the Lakers.
LeBron James and his Lakers co-star Anthony Davis were lobbying Leonard hard to leave Toronto and join them and form a superteam after Leonard’s N.B.A. finals most valuable player performance last month. Because of what the Clippers pulled off, Staples Center will feature dueling superstar tandems next season: James and Davis against Leonard and George.
This is a developing story.