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Raptors were reportedly working on trade for Paul George that might have kept Kawhi Leonard

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The Los Angeles Clippers won the Kawhil Leonard sweepstakes — and they got Paul George in the process.

That process cost Los Angeles a lot, too. To get George, the Clippers had to send Oklahoma City Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (who the Clippers are very high on and didn’t want to trade), Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks (three of their own, plus Miami’s in 2021), one lottery-protected first-round pick, and the right to two pick swaps with the Clippers. It was a haul for the Thunder.

Los Angeles had to throw all of that in the deal because Toronto, under team president Masai Ujiri, was making a push to trade for George themselves and bringing Leonard back to Toronto, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Thunder GM/President Sam Presti was playing the Raptors off Clippers president Lawrence Frank and team.

Clippers’ leadership — [owner Steve] Ballmer, Frank and GM Michael Winger — harbored fears that Presti was close to striking a deal with Toronto that would’ve delivered George to Leonard and the NBA champions, sources said.

Had Presti been able to strike a deal for George with the Raptors — and Leonard was willing to stay — George was believed to be willing to join the Raptors too, sources said. Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook with George to the Raptors — with the NBA’s Most Improved Player, forward Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of a deal — and Ujiri balked, league sources said…

In the end, the Clippers reservoir of draft picks and young players — cultivated in the Blake Griffin trade, and built upon in the flipping of Tobias Harris to Philadelphia — gave the Thunder a return that could Toronto couldn’t match in trade talks, league sources said.

The Raptors were never going to go that kind of all in on this trade because, unlike the Clippers, Toronto was not given assurances that if they traded for George that Leonard would come back, according to sources. That didn’t matter to Presti, he just needed the leverage to get more out of the Clippers. It worked.

For the Clippers, it was a lot to put in the trade. However, if being in Los Angeles — and watching the Lakers with even a diminished Kobe Bryant dominate the local landscape — taught Ballmer one thing it was that star power wins out in the modern NBA. On the court, elite stars are needed to win titles. Off the court, stars are what draws fans to the expensive seats and sells sponsorships. It’s also star power that can help Ballmer get a new building for the Clippers built in Inglewood.

The Clippers had to have this trade, whatever the cost that may come back to bite them. It’s the same calculus the Lakers used to land Anthony Davis (although there were not real suitors going against the Lakers in that overpay).

The Raptors now have a decision to make: Compete this season as a second- or third-tier team in the East (they are not a threat to Milwaukee or Philadelphia anymore), or start trading away players for picks and young assets to start the rebuild around Pascal Siakam. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet are all in the final year of their contracts. This is going to be a year of change north of the border — but they have a title to celebrate through it all.

The Clippers are hoping Leonard can bring the same to them.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”

Cameron Reddish quadruples Zion Williamson’s vote total for ‘best career’ in NBA rookie survey

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Zion Williamson is the NBA’s most-hyped rookie – for good reason. He was incredibly productive at Duke, and his jaw-dropping athleticism should help his game translate with the Pelicans. He wasn’t just the consensus No. 1 pick this year. He was viewed as the best prospect in years.

His peers seem less enamored.

Williamson tied for fourth in the NBA’s annual rookie survey when rookies were asked which member of this class would have the best career. The full results:

1. Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 19%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 16%

3. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta — 11%

4. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans — 5%

Coby White, Chicago — 5%

Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Jarrett Culver, Minnesota; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Keldon Johnson, San Antonio; Mfiondu Kabengele, LA Clippers; Romeo Langford, Boston; Cody Martin, Charlotte; Eric Paschall, Golden State; Tremont Waters, Boston; Dylan Windler, Cleveland

Reddish – the No. 10 pick – is a surprising top choice. He has plenty of talent and fluid athleticism, but he really struggled at Duke last season. That was a dispiriting development that wouldn’t happen to most players bound for NBA stardom.

I wouldn’t read too much into these results. Of the 42 polled rookies, 81% picked someone other than Reddish.

Still, it’s jarring to see Reddish so far ahead of Williamson.

Williamson didn’t get a majority of votes for Rookie of the Year prediction either, though he at least led that category:

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 35%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 27%

3. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Goga Bitadze, Indiana; Brandon Clarke, Memphis; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Kyle Guy, Sacramento; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Romeo Langford, Boston; Coby White, Chicago; Grant Williams, Boston

It’s close between Williamson and the field for Rookie of the Year. But if picking only one player, how do you pick someone other than Williamson?

Not every rookie takes these questions seriously. Clearly. Here, I think there’s especially an element of wanting to be different. Williamson is such an obvious answer to these questions, I bet many players gave their next answer. When too many do that, it looks silly.

At least the rookies chose Williamson as most athletic. In the only question where someone got a major of votes, Williamson topped 87% of the ballots.