Paul George made it no secret when he wanted out of Indiana two years ago he hoped to make his way to Los Angeles. It took a two-season detour with the Thunder, but George has finally gotten his wish. The 2019 MVP finalist is headed to L.A. to join forces with Kawhi Leonard, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. George reportedly met with Leonard in early July to discuss a potential partnership, before requesting a trade out of Oklahoma City.
The details of the trade are jaw-dropping. In exchange for George, the Thunder are receiving a massive haul of assets, reports Wojnaworski. In the deal, OKC gets second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the expiring contract of Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, a protected first-round pick and two future pick swaps. It’s an absurd haul for the Thunder, who now have to rebuild for the second time in three years after losing yet another of Russell Westbrook’s All-Star running mates. And the trade creates an immediate title contender in Los Angeles. Let’s grade the deal for both sides.
The Clippers simply had to make this trade. If getting George meant also getting Leonard, then L.A. had to do whatever was necessary to make this work. The trade looks absolutely bonkers at first blush. But after the shock wears off, it makes sense. In order for the Clips to make the Thunder trade George to a conference rival when he had two years left on his contract, they had no choice but to sell the farm.
The way to judge this move is to realize the trade wasn’t only for PG, it was also for Kawhi, who wasn’t going to sign unless George could also be acquired. With that context, this move was a no-brainer. Gilgeous-Alexander showed promise last season, but Kawhi and PG are two bonafide stars, and both finished in the top 10 of MVP voting last season—not even the Lakers’ duo of AD and LeBron can say that. It’s not that this trade has zero risk for L.A.—remember PG’s shoulder problems in the second half of last season?—but when you take a risk, you take one for the type of talent that Leonard and George have. The NBA already saw Kawhi alter the landscape of the league in Toronto last season. Imagine what he can do with another MVP finalist as his sidekick.
This is really conflicting for me. On one hand, the haul is logical. Gilgeous-Alexander is a young guard who could maybe force Westbrook over to the two, which makes sense for Russ to play his normal position. Gallo will provide immediate help and stretchiness in the frontcourt to keep the team competitive. And the number of picks is staggering. Seriously, just look at this, according to Marc Stein: Unprotected first-round picks in 2021 (via Miami), 2022, 2024 and 2026. The rights to swap picks in 2023 and 2025. And a separate 2023 first-round pick (also via Miami) that’s protected 1–14.
But here’s where this trade loses me. How valuable will those picks be if they all fall outside of the lottery? Oklahoma City hasn’t shown an ability to hit on those selections in the past, and getting an extra pick in the 20s every year is great, but not necessarily franchise-altering.
What bothers me even more is that the Thunder are trading George to an intra-conference rival when the West is wide open for the first time in years. Why wouldn’t OKC run it back at least once with George and see how far it can go without the Warriors bogeyman looming? Even if PG requested a trade, with two years left on his deal, he didn’t have to be moved right away, and certainly not to a team that was on the top of his list. Did the Thunder even properly survey the market? Did they think about trading George for more accomplished players—like how the Pacers did to much success when they shipped him to OKC in the first place?
People will focus on the haul, but I think this is a misstep for the Thunder. You just don’t trade an MVP-caliber player with two years left on his deal to a conference rival and not get a combination of prospects and at least one surefire All-Star in return. And guess what: if the Thunder don’t trade George to the Clippers, then maybe Kawhi decides to stay in Toronto!
I don’t think history will look back kindly on this trade, both for how quickly the Thunder made a title contender out of a rival, and for how few sure things they received in return. Maybe the Clips fall apart and the picks become very valuable. Maybe Gilgeous-Alexander makes a leap into stardom. Maybe this signals a teardown and Westbrook is also moved for a separate massive haul. But that’s a lot of maybes to receive in return for an MVP talent and perennial DPOY candidate. George may have wanted out. OKC didn’t have to be so quick to oblige.