Paul George may have loved Oklahoma City, may have felt like he was at home in the Sooner State, yet the NBA is a crazy world.
According to reports from ESPN and the New York Times, George will not be with the Thunder next season, but with the Los Angles Clippers instead, along with Kawhi Leonard, who it very much appears has played his one and only season in Toronto.
In a move nobody saw coming, originally reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski around 1 a.m. Saturday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers acquired both George and Leonard and, in return, the Thunder have landed the kind of deal that, should they play it right, may set them up as a winning franchise for years and years to come.
“Going onto SportsCenter now to report on the Clippers landing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George,” Wojnarowski first reported via Twitter a few minutes after 1 a.m.
Shortly before 2 a.m., Mark Stein of the The New York Times reported the following, via Twitter:
“OKC acquired THREE unprotected first-round picks from the Clippers in this trade (2022, 2024 and 2026), league sources say, PLUS two firsts from Miami (2021 unprotected and 2023 protected 1-to-14) ... AND the right to swap picks with the Clips in 2023 and 2025. Staggering.”
And, two minutes later, Stein reported the following, also via Twitter:
“Don't forget that the Thunder will also acquire Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari in the trade along with all of those draft assets ... because Oklahoma City was essentially trading Paul George AND Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers.”
Gilgeous-Alexander, a 6-foot-6 point guard, played in all 82 games for the Clippers last season, averaging 10.8 points and 2.8 rebounds over 26.5 minutes in his rookie season after one collegiate season at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Gallinari, a 6-10 small forward, averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds over 68 games with the Clippers last season, averaging 30.3 minutes.
Gallinari addressed the trade on Twitter, thereby confirming it:
“New adventure in OKC …,” he wrote. “Thanks for everything LAC.”
According to ESPN’s Wojnarowski, Leonard’s willingness to become a Clipper was contingent upon OKC’s ability to deliver George. Thus, the Thunder were able to receive a ransom commensurate with trading two superstars rather than one.
Following is the second paragraph of Wojarowski’s story about the deal, released at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
“In an 11th hour move to keep Leonard from partnering with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers are trading four future unprotected first-round draft picks, a protected first-round pick and two picks to the Thunder to get George, league sources told ESPN.”
The fifth paragraph of Wojarowski’s story is also eye-opening:
“George and Leonard wanted to play together, and George and his agent, Aaron Mintz, approached Thunder general manager Sam Presti in recent days and requested a trade, league sources say. Leonard wanted to walk into a championship contender, and he believed George was the co-star he wanted at his side.
Some media who cover the Thunder have already speculated that Russell Westbrook is also on the trading block as a result of the deal.
Tweeted Brent Dawson, who covers the Thunder for The Athletic:
“To answer the question everyone is asking, yes, I would expect this means OKC is exploring Russell Westbrook trades as well.”
He could be right, but if Westbrook wants to play his entire career in OKC, he now has two very good NBA players on the way to the Thunder in Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari, and a bushel of first-round draft picks in future seasons.
Of course, those picks may not arrive fast enough for the Thunder point guard. On the other hand, Westbrook has chosen OKC two different times already when he didn’t have to.
At any rate, the rest of the Thunder's offseason could be wildly interesting.
Immediately, it would appear, the Thunder have one too many players on their roster.
Given the reported re-signing of Nerlens Noel and the reported signings of free agents Mike Muscala and Alec Burks, the subtraction of George and the additions of Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari, as well as the presumed addition of first-round draft pick Darius Bazley, the Thunder are looking at 16 players under contract (though Abdel Nader’s and Deonte Burton’s deals, though very inexpensive, are not guaranteed).
However, the contractual obligations to both Gilgeous-Alexander and Gallinari appear to be in the $26.6 million range vs. George’s roughly $33 million 2019-20 salary, according to Spotrac.com, which charts the salaries and payrolls of all major North American sports.
That means, though OKC’s acquisitions may be collectively expensive, they’re still likely to allow the Thunder to save tens of millions of dollars in salary and luxury taxes.
And OKC fans thought the biggest shoe to possibly drop might be center Steven Adams finding himself on another roster before next season begins.
That’s the NBA for you, where anything can happen at any time.