In the end, the Raptors didn’t have enough assets—nor the willingness—to make the blockbuster swap work, and lost Kawhi Leonard to L.A., where the Clippers made the necessary moves and stunningly paired him with George.
The Raptors tried absolutely everything to retain Kawhi, but the lure of playing back home in California with a strong enough cast to take on the Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis proved too strong.
Let the Battle of L.A. begin.
George and Leonard wanted to play together, and George and his agent, CAA’s Aaron Mintz, approached Thunder general manager Sam Presti in recent days and requested a trade, league sources said. Leonard’s message to Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank was essentially this: Get George, and you’ll get me.
To Leonard, the cost was immaterial. He wanted to walk into a championship contender and believed George represented the co-star that he needed to combat James and Davis, sources said. Leonard wanted to play for Doc Rivers, a coach with whom he could feel a kinship that existed with Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources said.
Had Presti been able to strike a deal for George with Toronto — and Leonard was willing to stay — George was believed to be willing to join the Raptors, sources said. Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook and George to the Raptors — with the NBA’s Most Improved Player, forward Pascal Siakam, as the centerpiece of a broader, asset-crippling deal — but Ujiri couldn’t keep up with the Clippers’ willingness to unload unprotected first-round picks into the middle of the next decade, league sources said. Simply, Toronto didn’t have the depth of picks it needed to get a deal done — nor the certainty that getting George would make Leonard stay with the Raptors, sources said.
The Raptors could have been looking at adding Westbrook, with four years, $171 million left on his deal, and George to a roster that Leonard still might have fled. Toronto extended itself as far as it could for Leonard, but Ujiri could never be sure that the Thunder even wanted to do a deal with them — and perhaps were just using the Raptors to squeeze more out of the Clippers.