Revisiting the Paul George trade, analysis, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, five first-round picks, LA Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Kawhi Leonard injury, latest news

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Sportem
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Three years on from the Paul George trade and there’s a serious question to be posed – was it one of the biggest overpays in NBA history?

Take a deep breath before you read this one.

The Clippers sent out an unprecedented haul to acquire George to join forces with Kawhi Leonard and form a new super team in LA:

-Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Mon, 05 Dec

Monday December 5th

-Danilo Gallinari

-Five first-round draft picks (four unprotected)

-Rights to swap two other first round picks

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The historic trade stunned the NBA world given Leonard, who was a free agent at the time, was expected to either re-sign with the Toronto Raptors or team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the Lakers, and George had penned a four-year extension with the Thunder the year prior.

But behind the scenes, Leonard had plotted for the Clippers to poach George to play alongside him. So it’s important to note that it was a double coup, and without trading for George, they likely wouldn’t have gotten Leonard.

After the extraordinary swap, veteran NBA analyst Stephen A. Smith labelled it a “power move of epic proportions” from the Clippers.

The Clippers unveil Leonard and George (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

In fact, the move was so very radical that NBA superstar Damian Lillard didn’t believe what he was hearing.

“I didn’t believe it at first when my cousin told me,” NBA superstar Damian Lillard said on ESPN at the time.

“Then he followed with ‘and Kawhi is going there too.’ I was like, ‘that’s not true.’ I didn’t believe it.”

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it did come during a shift in the NBA’s trade landscape when teams started sending out inordinate packages of draft picks to get superstars.

But three years on, the trade is looking worse and worse for the Clippers.

Let’s unpack this one some more…

The fact that Gilgeous-Alexander, who was coming off a promising 2018/2019 rookie season, was involved in the deal is what really makes it hard reading for Clippers fans.

You could now genuinely argue Gilgeous-Alexander is a better player than George alone amid a spectacular season from the Thunder guard as arguably the most promising player in the NBA to build a team around.

He’s averaged 31.1 points per game, 4.7 rebounds, six assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting an insanely efficient 50 per cent from the field and 92 per cent from the line through the first quarter of the season to emerge as a genuine All-Star and All-NBA calibre of player.

If the Thunder had won a few more games, the Canadian would even be up there in the MVP discussion. Of course, Gilgeous-Alexander’s dominant individual play carried OKC to several wins early in the season.

It’s the sort of quantum leap we’ve seen from the likes of Ja Morant, Jayston Tatum and Luka Doncic in recent times – going from a star to a bona fide superstar.

There’d been some talk the Thunder could look to trade Gilgeous-Alexander and even some rumblings he’d been getting frustrated with playing for the rebuilding team.

Gilgeous-Alexander is in the midst of a career-best season (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

However the 24-year old’s surge to superstardom would surely no longer have OKC entertaining such a move and consolidates him as its franchise cornerstone to build around, where he’s contracted until 2027 after last year signing a five-year, $172 million rookie extension (that will become a $207 million deal if he makes an All-NBA team).

And so it makes the Thunder – under the lead of Gilgeous-Alexander and with more development from the likes of Josh Giddey and Chet Holmgren and the eventual addition of more talent – one of the most promising teams in the league with arguably the brightest future.

And this is before you add the barrage of draft picks that could turn into anything or be used as trade capital.

OKC also sold high on George at arguably the best time, with the star forward coming off a career-best season when he finished third in the MVP for the Thunder playing alongside Russell Westbrook, who was also traded away from the franchise a week later, and Carmelo Anthony.

It was clear that the Westbrook-led iteration of the Thunder had reached its ceiling after three-straight first round playoff exits, and so they got maximum value for their superstars – dealing Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two pick swaps.

That was some sort of crazy NBA off-season.

With Gilgeous-Alexander and having already used two of their first founders from the George trade on promising youngsters Tre Mann and Jalen Williams – and owning picks from the Clippers until 2026 – the Thunder would be extremely pleased with how it panned out.

Looking back, it’s truly remarkable how one player can net a franchise such a big return, and there’s really only a handful of stars that might’ve justified the price it paid.

Now, this isn’t a knock on George, as he’s still clearly a superstar of the league. But it simply highlights the danger of going all in on a superstar.

Notwithstanding what the Clippers gave up, their fortunes simply haven’t justified the bold move.

The Clippers haven’t yet lived up to expectations (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)Source: FOX SPORTS

At the time, as Stephen A. Smith declared, it was a trade that was tipped to elevate the Clippers to being the top dog in the NBA that would win multiple championships, while also marking a key shift in the power dynamics in LA despite the Lakers pairing James and Davis.

However the Clippers have made just one conference finals appearance during the Leonard-George era, which the former didn’t even play in what’s been a largely underachieving era thus far.

You’d hope that such a move would, at the very least, get you into the NBA finals, or consistently close enough to.

It’s this lack of success – or anything close to it – that’s the key factor in why the George trade has backfired so badly considering they mortgaged their future in a bid to contend in a meaningful way.

As harsh as it is given you can’t foresee injuries, the lack of availability from the Clippers’ superstar duo has been the overriding roadblock to success.

Leonard’s injury issues have been well noted as the more plagued of the two in recent times including playing just five games this season (of a possible (24) due to a setback in his return from a torn ACL.

One of the premier stars in the league whose absence has been sorely felt, having a healthy Leonard has the potential to ascend this team to where everyone expected it’d be.

Unfortunately though, we don’t know if we’ll ever see a fully up and running Leonard again.

George meanwhile hasn’t exactly been a model of durability either.

He’s only played 48 (of 72), 54 (of 72) and 31 (of 82) games respectively over his first three seasons at the Clippers (133 of a possible 226 in total [58 per cent]) due to ongoing setbacks. Even this campaign he’s been limited to 16 appearances due to more injury issues.

It’s hamstrung George – again, while still a superstar – to getting back to his dominant heights at OKC.

Of the three seasons Leonard and George have been on the roster, only once have they both been available for an entire playoffs campaign together in their first season – and rarely do things click for even the greatest of teams straight.

Leonard and George have both struggled to stay healthy (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)Source: AFP

The favourites to come out of the West this season given Leonard’s return, we ultimately just haven’t been able to see the Clippers’ full potential as constructed.

They currently sit seventh in the logjam of playoff contenders in the West at a respectful 13-11 despite having no Leonard for essentially the whole season, so it’s scary to think how good they could be at full strength with some continuity.

But the season has the potential to slip away from the Clippers if they don’t consistently get their superstar duo on the court.

With that, you could argue it’s too early to retrospectively assess the trade and contend that any franchise in the Clippers’ position in 2019 would’ve done the same thing. And both of those are probably true.

However as each passing day, month and season goes by, the Clippers’ championship window closes that little bit more.

Leonard (31 years old) and George (32) – both contracted until the 2024/25 season – are approaching their twilight years, and to greater concern, neither can stay healthy.

The Thunder clearly have the brighter future of the two teams, and you could even argue OKC is in a better position as of right now.

Who knows – maybe Leonard comes back fit and he and George help deliver the Clippers their inaugural NBA championship over the next three years – perhaps even his year – or at least lead the franchise to the NBA Finals.

Time is still on their side.

However as things stand, the George trade was the boldest of win-now gambles that hasn’t paid off or even gotten them close to a championship.

On the other hand, the Thunder have the NBA’s newest superstar and are sitting on a mountain of draft picks.

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