Kawhi Leonard, who led the Toronto Raptors to last month’s NBA title, agreed to a four-year deal worth $142 million with the Los Angeles Clippers, who also landed playmaker Paul George, according to multiple reports.
The blockbuster deal announced by ESPN, USA Today and several other media outlets is part of a reshaping of the NBA that leaves next season wide open without a heavy favorite from either the Eastern or Western Conference.
The Clippers’ moves added superstar skills to an already solid team that went 48-34 last season, losing to Golden State in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The club, founded in 1970, has never reached a conference final.
Leonard was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in leading the Raptors to the crown. Toronto and the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers tried in vain to sign him for next season.
It was the second NBA Finals MVP award for Leonard, the 28-year-old forward who also won the honor with San Antonio in 2014.
Leonard, who returns to his hometown, averaged a career-best 26.6 points this past season along with 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game. In the playoffs, Leonard lifted his averages to 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a contest.
New NBA free agent contracts cannot be signed until later Saturday, when teams will begin confirming deals as they are completed.
In all, there have been more than 80 major free agency deals worth more than $3 billion.
“This has been the craziest NBA summer ever!!!” tweeted free agent swingman Jamal Crawford.
With Leonard and George and guard Patrick Beverly, all among the top defensive players in the NBA as well as formidable point producers, the Clippers should instantly become title contenders in the Western Conference.
George comes to from Oklahoma City in a trade deal. The Clippers sent Italian Danilo Gallinari, 20-year-old Canadian guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and several draft picks sent to the Thunder.
George, 29 and also from the Los Angeles area, averaged 28.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and an NBA-best 2.2 steals a game.
The departure of George also puts Oklahoma City in a rebuilding position that might push them to trade superstar Russell Westbrook.
– Lakers scramble quickly –
Former Lakers legend Jerry West, now an executive with the Clippers, has frustrated his former club.
Foiled in their bid to have Leonard join James and Antonio Davis in a ‘Big Three’, the Lakers instead switched to spending their remaining salary cap funds to surrounding James and Davis with enough supporting talent to make them a solid contender in a wild western conference.
They signed Danny Green, an ex-Clipper who played for Toronto last season, to a two-year deal worth $30 million, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a two-year deal worth $16 million.
JaVale McGee also agreed to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million deal to remain the Lakers’ center.
“That LAL vs. LAC rivalry is going to be (fire emogi),” tweeted Kevin Love, a former Cleveland Cavaliers teammate of James.
The Clippers and Lakers will be trying to overtake Golden State, who have lost injured Kevin Durant to Brooklyn.
Add to that a revamped Utah team powered by French big man Rudy Gobert and a Houston squad featuring scoring champion James Harden and star guard Chris Paul and the Western Conference looks up for grabs.
In the Eastern Conference, the Raptors will be weakened by the loss of Leonard and Green. The Milwaukee Bucks, who won an NBA-best 60 games last season, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who revamped the lineup around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, look the top contenders.
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