By Mike Stearman, PSO Director of Basketball Operations
Jul 16, 2019

As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Paul George will be traded to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a record-setting collection of first-round draft picks. George joins newly acquired free agent Kawhi Leonard, transforming the Clippers into a title contender overnight. Only a year removed from signing a four-year contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, George’s trade demand has taken the player empowerment era to new heights. Here’s an inside look at how both franchises will be affected in the short-term and long-term. 

Los Angeles Clippers: F Paul George

Oklahoma City Thunder: PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, G/F Danilo Gallinari, MIA 2021 1st Rd Pick (Unprotected), 2022 1st Rd Pick (Unprotected), 2023 1st Rd Swap, MIA 2023 1st Rd Pick (1-14 protected) 2024 1st Rd Swap (Unprotected), 2025 1st Rd Swap, 2026 1st Rd Pick (Unprotected)

  • Paul George can enter free agency in the summer of 2021
  • George is joining Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in their hometown Los Angeles
  • George is coming off shoulder surgery and likely to miss the start of training camp
  • George made first-team All-NBA last season and finished third in MVP and Defensive Player of the Year voting
  • George has yet to make an NBA finals in his career
  • Danilo Gallinari averaged a career high in PER (21.0) and Win Shares (8.2) last season
  • Gallinari shot a career-best 43.3% from three last season
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander made second-team All-Rookie last season
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Clippers in minutes
  • The Thunder have made the playoffs each year in franchise history except for one
  • The Thunder potentially have 13 first-round picks in the next seven drafts 

On paper, it looks like the Clippers paid 200 cents on the dollar for Paul George. They sent a larger package of picks than the Lakers did for AD, and they did it for a less talented player at that. As amazing as George was last season, he’s coming off offseason shoulder surgery and isn’t in the top tier of players like Lebron James or Kevin Durant. Why would the Clippers mortgage their entire future for a player that likely won’t lead them to a championship?

For the Clippers, they didn’t surrender this war chest of assets for just Paul George: this was about getting him AND Kawhi Leonard. With the list of suitors whittled down to three teams, Leonard gave the Clippers an ultimatum: get me a second star, and I’m yours; if not, I might go to the crosstown rival Lakers to form the greatest Big 3 ever assembled, making the Clippers an instant afterthought in Los Angeles. The Clippers certainly felt the pressure to acquire Paul George. It was boom or bust. 

After some recruiting from Leonard himself, George requested a trade and the Clippers’ godfather offer became too much for Sam Presti and the Thunder to pass up. Combine the breakup of the Warriors with the incredible seasons from both Leonard and George, and the Clippers figure this tandem makes them the favorite to win the title. However, Leonard and George can both enter free agency in two years. If they leave without a title, the Clippers will have set themselves back a decade. In a couple years, it’ll be evident if the ends justified the means of this blockbuster deal.  

Future Outlook: Landing George was the catalyst to turning the Clippers into title contenders

When Paul George requested a trade from the Thunder, the franchise faced an impossible situation.  Acquiescing to George would drive out Westbrook as well, leading to the end of an era for basketball in Oklahoma City. However, Los Angeles was offering a monster trade package and OKC management was eager to escape the luxury tax. Not to mention, having a trade request loom for two more years didn’t seem like the ideal environment for contending. Stuck between a rock and hard place, management decided the Clippers deal offered a picturesque rebuilding plan and a way out from a two-man nucleus that was 0-for-2 in trying to make it out of the first round. 

Since Kawhi’s commitment to the Clippers was dependent on landing Paul George, the assets the Thunder received were worth two star players. Highlighting this plethora of draft picks are unprotected firsts from L.A. in 2024 and 2026, along with pick swaps in 2023 and 2025. Keep in mind, George and Kawhi are liable to hit free agency in just two years; those are likely lottery picks if they decide to pack their bags. By the time the 2025-26 season comes around though, Leonard and George will be 34 & 35 years old. 

In addition to the draft picks, the Thunder received Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Gilgeous-Alexander is a promising young player with a staunch work ethic, and Presti can flip Gallinari down the line for more future draft picks. Although they lost two All-NBA players, the Thunder are sitting on a mountain of assets unlike any before in NBA history.

Future Outlook: The Thunder will spend the next half-decade in rebuilding mode

When Paul George re-signed with the Thunder last off-season, it seemed the lingering rumors of “PG to LA” had finally dispersed. What nobody could have predicted was the drawing power of Kawhi Leonard and the weight on the Clippers franchise. One record-setting trade later and PG is in fact in LA, albeit not in a Lakers uniform. Swapping the best teammate of his career, Russell Westbrook for the reigning FMVP, this is George’s best shot at that coveted NBA championship.

Defensively, Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley’s presence on the Clippers will augment George’s already impressive statistics, and vice versa. With increased ball-pressure on the wings, opponents will be more likely to throw errant passes, leading to steal opportunities. Both capable of helping from point A to point B in a flash, Leonard and George give each other license to gamble and jump passing lanes. With nine All-Defensive teams and two Defensive Player of the Year awards between them, there’s shades of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Just ask Doc Rivers

Stylistically on offense, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George bear resemblance to one other. Whether it be in the pick and rollisolation, and even in transition to an extent, they score at similar rates at similar spots. Having each other tightens up the defense creating more one-on-one opportunities, and Paul George even brings some extra skills in his offensive bag. Last season, George shot 39% from three on 9.6 attempts and was in the 84.5 scoring percentile coming off screens. 

George’s success on the Clippers depends on his health post-shoulder surgery. Hopefully, he’ll look like the healthy, top-three MVP candidate from the beginning of last season rather than the hampered version gutting out a torn labrum. He’s likely to miss the start of training camp, but the Clippers won’t rush him back. All they care about is keeping him and Leonard healthy when it matters in June. 

Ignore George and Leonard’s positional overlap. In an ever-changing NBA with evolving skill sets, adhering to official positions is a thing of the past. If the Clippers can secure a high seed with both guys playing 60-65 games, they’ll be in great shape. If two years pass, however, and PG has nothing to show for it, there’s always that player option. But that’s a long ways down the road. 

Future Outlook: All-NBA player for title contender

A 6-6 point guard with a seven foot wingspan, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the sleeper of the 2018 draft. Lauded by Coach Calipari for his work ethic, Gilgeous-Alexander worked his way up from the bench on Kentucky to the 11th pick in the draft. All-Rookie second-team last season and a 73-game starter for the feisty Los Angeles Clippers, Gilgeous-Alexander is an exciting prospect for despondent Oklahoma City fans.  

Previously playing within an offensive system that utilized two other point guards (Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams), Gilgeous-Alexander will have greater opportunity to showcase his skills in Oklahoma City. There were flashes of elite two-way play all last season and post All-Star break, he averaged 16 points, five assists and four rebounds per-36 minutes. Gilgeous-Alexander’s calling card, however, is his defense. Wise beyond his years on that side of the ball, he uses his length to smother opponents and eliminate passing lanes. Despite his high steal and block totals (1.6 and 0.7 per-36 minutes), he knows when not to gamble and stays in position defensively. 

Despite the surprising maturity in isolation and pick and rollGilgeous-Alexander’s offensive game is rough around the edges. For someone of his size, he underperforms in transition, and his spotting up and off-ball movement needs refinement. To reach his full potential, he’ll need to add weight to his slender frame, polish his decision-making, and expand his off-the-dribble repertoire. 

With no expectation to win, Gilgeous-Alexander’s usage rate will jump, giving him plenty of opportunity to sharpen the weak aspects of his game. Only 21-years-old, with three years left under team control before restricted free agency, his timeline matches up with the Thunder’s rebuild. SGA has the chance to become the next face of OKC.

Future Outlook: Foundational player for rebuilding franchise

A wildly underrated player, Danilo Gallinari was a solid addition for Oklahoma City. After the departure of George and Westbrook, the Thunder’s offense is going to get a complete makeover; Gallinari’s positional versatility eases the process for head coach Billy Donavan. 

Gallinari set career-highs in points (19.8)rebounds (6.1) and PER (21.0) after one of his healthiest campaigns in recent memory. Starting the most games (68) since his sophomore season, Gallo posted a 113.3 offensive ratingone of the best marks in the league for a non All-Star.  Especially effective in spotting up or in isolation, he shot efficiently from nearly every spot on the court. Although he gives effort defensively, he doesn’t possess the athleticism or instincts to be a game-changer on that end.  

Owed $22.1 million in the final year of his contract, it’ll be interesting to see how the Thunder approach the acquisition of Gallinari. If they were to re-sign him in free agency, he’s still got some prime years left and  could be an X-factor in a couple years for a young team trying to sneak in the playoffs. On the other hand, his market value might be above what the Thunder are willing to shell out. As the trade deadline nears, there will be contenders looking to add a piece like him to push them over the top.  

 Future Outlook: Top scorer on a rebuilding team

With Paul George’s and Russell Westbrook’s behemoth contracts off the books, the Thunder have a clean cap sheet for the first time in a while. With this extra space they can take on expiring contracts for more draft picks, while retaining the young talent they already have. The addition of George and Kawhi Leonard handcuffs the Clippers to two expensive contracts for the foreseeable future. If they win the title, however, it’ll be worth whatever luxury tax penalties they incur. 

Lebron JamesAfter missing the postseason for the first time in 13 years, Lebron’s fully rested and the new-look Lakers are going all-in for a title run. The pairing of PG and Kawhi, who are both proven Lebron foils, now stand in his way. If he can muster one more vintage season in year 17, taking down the Clippers en route to a fourth championship would provide some serious ammunition for his case as the G.O.A.T.

Lawrence Frank: The entire Clippers front office is working under the gun for the next two years. They sacrificed essentially all first-round draft picks until 2026, and only have George and Leonard under contract until 2021. Signing Patrick Beverley and Ivica Zubac while retaining Lou Williams are steps in the right direction, but it might be title or bust if Lawrence Frank and Jerry West want to sign their star duo long-term.

Sam Presti: Despite his initial reluctance to part ways with Paul George, Sam Presti struck a hell of a deal. Pitting the Clippers and the Raptors against each other, he walked away with a record collection of draft picks and a strong foundational piece in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Losing George and subsequently Russell Westbrook hurts, but not many franchises get such a clean rebuild laid out in front of them. This time around, hopefully Presti can hold on the draft picks he hits on. It’s a clear sign Presti believes he’ll be in Oklahoma City for a long time (or will leave very soon) at the fact he chose to capture all of these long-term assets.

– Clippers players react

 

– Robin Lopez got jokes 😂

 

– Donavan Mitchell feeling the aftershocks

 

– The league that never sleeps

Given the situation, Clippers had to made this deal. Desperate to keep Leonard away from the Lakers, Lawrence Frank saw an opportunity to form his own dynamic duo and make up for fifty years of being stuck in the little brother role. Giving up all those draft picks drastically limits flexibility for future trades or team-building, but pairing George and Leonard together is enough to win a title. The key point to be made regarding this trade is that the Clippers did it for two players, not one. In today’s NBA, you get the stars first and figure the rest out along the way.

Grade: A-

 

Considering the gargantuan return he got in the trade, Sam Presti should be quietly celebrating in his office right now. If the Boston-Brooklyn trade from 2013 proved anything, it’s that trading unprotected first-rounders years in advance can backfire horribly. Deep in the luxury tax with little playoff success to show for it, the Thunder have been given a second chance to build a title contender from scratch. In such a small market with no name-brand player, however, they’ll struggle to keep interest from angsty fans. 

Grade: B+

Although facing drastically different expectations, both franchises set themselves up beautifully for what they each hope to accomplish. For the Clippers, it’s a chance to rule basketball in L.A. for the first time in franchise history, while the Thunder now have the biggest stockpile of assets in the NBA. 

Bottom Line: Both teams took a huge step in opposite directions

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