Rick Zamperin: Kawhi Leonard picks the Clippers, Raptors pick up the pieces
The King of the North has abdicated his throne and now the Toronto Raptors are left contemplating where they go from here.
The #KawhiWatch ended early Saturday morning when news broke that Kawhi Leonard is reportedly going to sign a four-year contract worth $142 million with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The other shoe dropped just minutes later when the Clippers swung a deal to acquire all-star Paul George from Oklahoma City for Hamilton, Ont., native Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, as well as five first-round draft picks and two pick swaps.
It appears that Leonard told the Clippers that he’d sign with them if they could pluck George out of OKC, and if they couldn’t, he was willing to sign with the L.A. Lakers to create a superpower with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
There are also reports that the Raptors were in on a potential Paul George trade in an effort to entice Leonard to stay in Toronto with Pascal Siakam as the centrepiece, but Raptors President Masai Ujiri didn’t have the assets to get it done.
So now Leonard and George will battle King James and A-D under the bright lights in La La Land as the balance of power in the NBA once again shifts west.
Kawhi Leonard to sign with Clippers after they pull off blockbuster trade for Paul George
Over in Toronto, life without Leonard (and Danny Green, who is joining the Lakers) begins.
Raptors fans should be sad and disappointed, but they shouldn’t be angry. Leonard brought Toronto its first NBA championship and was a true professional all season long. He didn’t sulk after being traded by San Antonio and Leonard didn’t bark about not wanting to play in Toronto. He came, he saw, he kicked some butt.
But now ‘The Klaw’ is going home to Los Angeles and that leaves the Raps with a massive hole on their roster.
Toronto’s projected starting five heading into the 2019-20 season: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, with Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka the first players coming off the bench.
That’s a far cry from the talented quintet of Leonard, Lowry, Siakam, Gasol and Green that started Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
With Toronto now seemingly out of the back-to-back title conversation, and with only Powell and Anunoby signed beyond this upcoming season, Ujiri’s championship honeymoon has come to an abrupt end.
Danny Green announces he’s signing with Lakers following Kawhi’s decision, says thank you to Toronto
Without Leonard in Toronto long-term, the Raps president must tear down the team he built at some point this season (the NBA trade deadline is in February) and restock the cupboards. Or does the 48-year-old Ujiri, who himself has two years left on his contract with the Raptors, have another bold trade in mind that will keep Toronto at the top of the heap?
For now, #KawhiWatch has morphed into #ThankYouKawhi capping off a year that Raptors fans will never forget.
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