Kawhi Leonard will sign with the LA Clippers, per multiple reports.
The news, which was first reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, will have a tremendous effect on the league. Leonard, a 28-year-old forward, is coming off a championship campaign in his only season with the Toronto Raptors, earning his second NBA Finals MVP in the process.
Paul George is also headed to the Clippers after LA traded for the All-Star forward, sending the Oklahoma City Thunder four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two pick swaps, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Further reports indicated that Southern California natives George and Leonard met earlier in the week, which resulted in George asking Oklahoma City for a trade. With the Clippers reportedly worried about Leonard either staying in Toronto (or worse for them) joining the Los Angeles Lakers, a raft of assets was in the offing.
The 29-year-old George — who is owed roughly $105 million for the next three seasons — spent the last two years alongside Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. George averaged a career-best 28 points last season even while dealing with shoulder issues that required surgery, and the Thunder couldn’t get out of the first round in either of those seasons.
He was a finalist for both NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the Year last season, when he led the league with 2.21 steals per contest.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri acquired Leonard and Danny Green prior to last season in a daring gamble, sending franchise icon DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in July — coming off a season Leonard appeared in only nine games while dealing with a right quadricep injury.
During the regular season, Leonard averaged 26.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals in 34.0 minutes across 60 games. But he upped his line across the board in a phenomenal postseason run (30.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.9 apg) that included the NBA’s first series-clinching buzzer-beater in a Game 7 when he turned back the Philadelphia 76ers on a breathtaking four-bounce 3-pointer in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Leonard ultimately finished the postseason with 732 points, the third-highest total in the history of the NBA playoffs, trailing only Michael Jordan (759; 1992) and LeBron James (748; 2018).
Already joining LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to win Finals MVP for multiple teams, Leonard would become the first reigning Finals MVP to play for a different team since the award was first given out in the 1969 Finals.
The Toronto exit makes Leonard the third superstar Raptor to leave the team via free agency, following Tracy McGrady (Orlando Magic; 2000) and Chris Bosh (Miami Heat; 2010). The bones of a competitive squad remain for Ujiri and his staff. The team, as it stands, will be led by veterans Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, and complemented by rising star Pascal Siakam — who earned the 2018-19 Kia Most Improved Player award. Their player development program has brought along several players either selected late or unchosen in the draft, providing a depth of talent that allows for an on-the-fly rebuild.
The Lakers didn’t wait long before starting to move on from their quest for Leonard. Danny Green announced that he is signing a two-year deal with the Lakers, meaning he, too, is leaving Toronto.
“Kawhi has made his decision. Seems like the announcement is out,” Green said in a video he posted to his social media accounts. “It’s time for me to make my announcement … I will be teaming up with new teammates in LA, the Los Angeles Lakers.”
Still, Leonard’s decision puts a damper on the Lakers’ offseason quest as well — even though they will finalize a trade Saturday to bring in Anthony Davis from New Orleans and landed the sort of shooter than LeBron James craves by adding Green.
Leonard was, by far, the biggest name left on the free agent market. The other marquee names in this class like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker all made their decisions known relatively quickly.
And like Durant, Irving and Walker, he’s changing addresses.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.