In what ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski describes as a “wild night of negotiations,” Thunder head of basketball operations Sam Presti leveraged the Clippers and Raptors off one another in Paul George trade talks as the Clippers tried to secure a commitment from Kawhi Leonard.
League sources tell Wojnarowski that the Clippers’ top decision-makers, owner Steve Ballmer, president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, and GM Michael Winger, “harbored fears” that the Raptors and Thunder were close to reaching a deal that would have sent George to Toronto.
Those fears – and their belief that they’d get a commitment from Leonard if they could land George – prompted the Clippers to surrender a substantial package headlined by young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round picks (plus two pick swaps), which the Raptors couldn’t match.
According to Wojnarowski’s report, Presti pursued a deal with the Raptors that would have sent both George and Russell Westbrook to Toronto, with Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of the deal. However, Raps president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri balked.
Woj doesn’t offer additional details on what the Thunder were seeking from the Raptors, but a trade would’ve had to feature significant expiring salaries (likely at least Kyle Lowry plus one of Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka). Given the package the Thunder eventually got from the Clippers, it presumably would’ve had to include a boatload of draft picks as well.
George was believed to be willing to join the Raptors if Toronto had worked out a deal for him and if Leonard was willing to stay, according to Wojnarowski.
As Wojnarowski notes in a tweet though, the Raptors ultimately didn’t have the assets to satisfy the Thunder’s demands, with or without Siakam. In other words, Eric Koreen of The Athletic tweets, the Raptors were being used for leverage and may not have been able to reach an agreement with the Thunder even if they’d wanted to. However, the threat of a potential deal with Toronto helped Oklahoma City get the return it wanted from the Clippers.
Here’s more from Woj:
- To Leonard, the cost of a George trade for the Clippers was “immaterial,” according to Wojnarowski, who says that Kawhi believed PG13 was the co-star he needed to do battle with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in Los Angeles. The Finals MVP also had strong interest in playing for Doc Rivers, sources tell ESPN.
- The Clippers believed that if they didn’t make a trade for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers, per Wojnarowski.
- Early in the free agent process, before the Clippers knew that George was the trade target Leonard had in mind, the team inquired on deals for Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday and Wizards guard Bradley Beal, but they weren’t available in trade talks, writes Wojnarowski.