Clip­pers in­stant con­tenders as Leonard, Ge­orge to ar­rive in LA

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW GREIF

As the rest of the NBA hur­ried to make its freeagency de­ci­sions, Kawhi Leonard took his time.

For the Clip­pers, the wait was more than worth it.

Not only did the Clip­pers land Leonard, the reign­ing NBA Fi­nals most valu­able player and the most cov­eted free agent this sum­mer, late Fri­day night, but they also added a second star in one fell swoop by agree­ing to trade for Ok­la­homa City’s Paul Ge­orge, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple not authorized to speak pub­licly.

The one-two punch shocked the NBA, which waited for days with few de­tails about Leonard’s pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion, and turned the Clip­pers into an overnight fa­vorite to win the West­ern Con­fer­ence.

Leonard and Ge­orge have wished to play to­gether for some time, another per­son said. Both for­wards grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and, af­ter years com­pet­ing against one another, en­vi­sioned form­ing per­haps the NBA’s best all-around duo.

To ac­quire Ge­orge, who was third in the NBA’s MVP vot­ing this sea­son, the Clip­pers will pay a heavy price. They agreed to send for­ward Danilo Gal­li­nari and point guard Shai Gil­geous-Alexander, fresh off an all-rookie sea­son, to Ok­la­homa City. In ad­di­tion, the Clip­pers will send the Thunder four un­pro­tected firstround draft picks, a pro­tected first-round pick and two pick swaps, the peo­ple con­firmed.

The Clip­pers stock­piled draft picks, trade­able con­tracts and promis­ing young play­ers in re­cent sea­sons, and many thought that if the team struck out on Leonard, it could use those as­sets to ac­quire a star through a trade. But with their strik­ing deal for Ge­orge, the Clip­pers moved up that time­line far ear­lier than any­one anticipate­d while also land­ing Leonard.

A pre­sen­ta­tion by the Clip­pers last week, in­clud­ing an ex­tremely strong pitch by coach Doc Rivers, helped sell Leonard on join­ing the team, ac­cord­ing to the peo­ple. In choos­ing the Clip­pers, Leonard spurned the Lak­ers and Toronto Rap­tors, whom he led to an NBA cham­pi­onship less than

three weeks ago.

Leonard is ex­pected to sign a four-year con­tract worth the max­i­mum $142 mil­lion. Con­tracts could be signed Satur­day af­ter­noon.

He and Ge­orge give the Clip­pers star power un­like the fran­chise has ever known — and at an op­por­tune time. With Kevin Du­rant leav­ing Golden State for Brook­lyn in free agency and War­riors star Klay Thomp­son likely out for much of next sea­son with a knee in­jury, the West ap­pears wide open. The ri­val Lak­ers ap­peared to po­si­tion them­selves as a fa­vorite in re­cent weeks by agree­ing to a trade for Anthony Davis, who will be paired with Le­Bron James.

Yet with both Leonard and Ge­orge ar­riv­ing amid a desta­bi­lized West, the Clip­pers rapidly turned from an eight-seed that ad­vanced to this sea­son’s first round of the play­offs into a team that will op­er­ate in the spot­light.

Leonard, a 28-year-old Moreno Val­ley na­tive who played at San Diego State, rep­re­sents the most im­por­tant free-agent sign­ing in the his­tory of a fran­chise that, in con­trast to its crosstown ri­val, never has been a des­ti­na­tion for top stars in their prime.

The Clip­pers sought to change that through plan­ning that be­gan in earnest a year ago, from the mo­ment Leonard was traded from San An­to­nio, where he’d ex­pe­ri­enced a fallingout over the han­dling of a quadri­ceps in­jury, to Toronto.

That plan paid off Fri­day with Leonard’s de­ci­sion, which was shrouded in spec­u­la­tion not only since the be­gin­ning of free agency last week­end, but all sea­son. Fa­mously reserved, Leonard al­lowed few, if any, de­tails about his in­ter­est in his suit­ors to emerge pub­licly.

In Leonard, the Clip­pers are re­ceiv­ing a player widely re­garded as the best all-around star play­ing. He av­er­aged 26.6 points, 7.3 re­bounds and 3.3 as­sists last sea­son with Toronto and reached another level in the post­sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 30.5 points, 9.1 re­bounds and 3.9 as­sists while shoot­ing 49% from the field.

Ge­orge av­er­aged 28 points, 8.2 re­bounds and 4.1 as­sists for the Thunder. The Palm­dale na­tive has said he grew up a Clip­pers fan, and now he joins the team at its height.

The Clip­pers will sur­round Leonard and Ge­orge with a core of re­turn­ing play­ers who helped push Golden State, the team Leonard and the Rap­tors de­feated in the fi­nals, to six games dur­ing the first round of the post­sea­son. That in­cludes Pa­trick Bev­er­ley, who agreed Sun­day to re-sign on a three-year con­tract worth $40 mil­lion.

MORRY GASH AP

Af­ter two big un­of­fi­cial moves Fri­day night, the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers got Kawhi Leonard, left, to pair with Paul Ge­orge.

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