Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are joining the Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA balance of power has shifted to a club that has never even reached a conference final.
As NBA teams began signing contracts on Saturday with free agents negotiated over the past week, spinning heads were still trying to cope with a talent shakeup detailed in media reports all week that could reset the league’s top teams for several seasons to come.
Leonard agreed early Saturday to a four-year deal worth $142 million with the Clippers, but only after they sent five NBA Draft picks, plus Italian Danilo Gallinari and Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to the Oklahoma City Thunder to get George.
ESPN reported Leonard sought to have Kevin Durant join him with the Clippers but the Golden State star, who will miss next season rehabilitating from a ruptured right Achilles tendon, had already agreed to a deal sending him to the Brooklyn Nets along with Boston’s Kyrie Irving.
Leonard then sought out George, who stunned the Thunder by asking for a trade. The Clippers had enough draft picks stockpiled to deal away future talent to create an instant contender without losing the nucleus of a team that reached the playoffs in 2019.
“This has been the craziest NBA summer ever!!!” tweeted free agent swingman Jamal Crawford.
The Clippers were pushed into the deal because they risked losing Leonard to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would have joined LeBron James and Anthony Davis in a “Big 3” Superteam lineup that would have been clear title favorites.
Leonard, a 28-year-old forward, took less money than Toronto offered to play alongside George, a 29-year-old forward, in their hometown.
Oddsmakers eye Clippers
By beating out the Lakers and a pitch from Toronto to stay with the Raptors team he made into a champion, the Clippers made themselves an oddmakers darling in a league that saw Golden State reach the past five finals and Cleveland in four until James departed last July for the Lakers.
Las Vegas Caesars Sportsbook made the Clippers a 5-2 favorite for the 2020 NBA crown, up from 10-1 contender, with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks next at 4-1.
The Clippers, who also agreed to a two-year deal with Croatian center Ivica Zubac according to ESPN, added superstar skills to an already solid team that went 48-34 last season.
The Clippers lost to Golden State in the first round of last season’s NBA playoffs. Formed in 1970, the Clippers have never won an NBA title or even reached a conference final.
“Gotta love free agency,” Clippers guard Sindarius Thornwell tweeted.
Leonard was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in leading the Raptors to the crown and becomes the first NBA Finals MVP to switch teams for the following campaign. He also won the award in 2014 in leading San Antonio to the title.
Leonard averaged a career-best 26.6 points this past season along with 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game. In the playoffs, Leonard lifted his averages to 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a contest.
George averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and an NBA-best 2.2 steals a game last season.
Lakers respond quickly
The Lakers spent their remaining salary cap funds to surrounding James and Davis with supporting talent to ensure they will challenge for supremacy with the Clippers, who share Staples Center arena.
The Lakers agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Golden State center DeMarcus Cousins worth $2.3 million and a two-year deal with guard Rajon Rondo to stay, ESPN reported Saturday.
Rondo, 33, helped Boston to the 2008 NBA title while Cousins, 28, recovered from a torn left Achilles tendon last season after four consecutive All-Star seasons.
Also joining James and Davis are swingman Danny Green, an ex-Clipper who played for Toronto last season, on a two-year deal worth $30 million, and Golden State guard Quinn Cook on a two-year deal worth $6 million.
The Lakers also kept Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a two-year deal worth $16 million and center JaVale McGee on a two-year deal worth $8.2 million deal.
“That LAL vs. LAC rivalry is going to be (fire emoji),” tweeted Kevin Love, a former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate of James.