The Raptors were confident. The Lakers were reportedly confident.
But in the end, the Clippers’ year-long pursuit of Kawhi Leonard paid off.
This was put up quickly on the Kawhi Leonard official fan Instagram page, which is tied to Leonard.
The Clippers seemed to be a longshot in recent days because it was reported Leonard wanted to play with another superstar and Doc Rivers’ crew didn’t have one and didn’t seem to have a line on one in the near future.
Enter the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are sending Paul George to the Clippers for a massive package of players and picks, something broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
George had become disillusioned playing next to Russell Westbrook and how far that team, as constructed, could go in a deep West. His agent reportedly asked for a trade in recent days, and the Clippers took advantage of that opportunity.
The Thunder made more than the best of a difficult situation, they got a haul.
The Clippers become a top title contender in what looks like a wide-open league. The offseason has dispersed talent, leaving several teams in the championship chase.
As he showed with Toronto, Leonard can singlehandedly lift a good team to greatness, and now he has the partner he wanted (one that can form an impressive defensive tandem. The Clippers established credibility with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Now, they look poised to take the next step with the powerhouses that are Leonard and George, with roster depth that includes Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and others.
The Raptors and Lakers will be left with harder choices.
By leaving the Raptors, Leonard makes history. Superstars had never left the defending champion for another team. But Toronto should, and likely will, just be thankful he delivered a title in his lone year there.
The Raptors now appear extremely unlikely to repeat. But in the championship afterglow, they could go multiple directions. They could remain a solid playoff team with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Or Toronto could trade those vets and start a rebuild around Siakam.
The Lakers must now find role players around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There’s a lot of pressure on general manager Rob Pelinka after last year’s front office – led by Magic Johnson with Pelinka as top lieutenant – flopped in its role-player signings. The task could easily make the difference between the Lakers winning and losing a title.
The challenge for the Lakers is heightened because a lot of the top role players the Lakers had targeted — J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, etc. — are off the board, having signed with other teams. There are players such as Danny Green, who has agreed to sign with the Lakers, plus players such as Marcus Morris, Rajon Rondo may return, but the pickings are much slimmer than they were five days ago.
As Los Angeles’ most popular team, the Lakers will remain in the spotlight. But the Clippers showed their credibility by completing their all-in push for Leonard with a commitment.
Now, they’ll look to get the championship payoff.