Paul George will be Kawhi Leonard's superstar teammate on the Los Angeles Clippers next season, and it turns out the reigning NBA Finals MVP recruited several stars before making his free agency decision.
The Clippers landed Leonard on a four-year max contract and pulled off a stunning trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire George over the weekend, instantly vaulting the franchise atop most oddsmakers' list of the top NBA title contenders for the 2019-20 season.
ESPN's Zach Lowe reported Monday that included in Leonard's recruiting efforts was former Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving, who ultimately decided to take his talents to the Brooklyn Nets and team up with Kevin Durant.
In one backroom power move, Kawhi Leonard rescued Paul George from a capped-out low-level playoff team; rejected the Lakers' attempts to build perhaps the greatest big three in basketball history; and left the league as open as it has been in years. The league's quietest superstar "found his voice," as one executive put it. He recruited George, Durant and even Kyrie Irving at points, sources say.
An Irving/Leonard pairing would've been a lot of fun to watch. Irving enjoyed plenty of success in his three seasons as LeBron James' teammate on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Leonard is a similar type of player to James in terms of being a versatile, all-around machine capable of dominating at both ends of the court.
It's unknown how intensely Leonard recruited Irving, but the All-Star guard reportedly agreed to sign with the Nets on a four-year, $141 million max deal soon after free agency began at 6 p.m. ET on June 30.
Leonard's decision wasn't reported until the early hours of Saturday morning, long after all the top free agents had agreed to new contracts with teams. As a result, the Clippers' only path toward pairing Leonard with another superstar was via trade, and they paid a historically high price, including five first-round draft picks (plus pick swaps), to acquire George.
Irving is very talented, but after the way he failed as a leader for the Celtics last season, the Clippers likely will be better off with George as Leonard's co-star.
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