What Move to Clips Tells Us About Kawhi, Paul George and Their Legacies

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2019

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 22:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder prepare for play to resume during the second half of an NBA game at Scotiabank Arena on March 22, 2019 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

In 2009 and 2010, Marvel released a series of Deadpool comics with the tagline: Merc with a Mouth.

On Friday, Kawhi Leonard became the NBA's Merc without a Mouth. A silent assassin who just successfully took down the Golden State Warriors is now headed home to SoCal, where he'll pursue his third title.

"Free-agent forward Kawhi Leonard will sign with the Los Angeles Clippers," Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes tweeted.

Not long after that, a report on Leonard's unexpected No. 2 hit the internet.

"Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski wrote.

The news rocked the NBA.

The Los Angeles Lakers reacted by re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee, as well as adding Danny Green.

The Lakers had to settle for Kawhi Leonard's former teammate, Danny Green.
The Lakers had to settle for Kawhi Leonard's former teammate, Danny Green.Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Oklahoma City Thunder now have a far brighter future with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (and Danilo Gallinari), five first-round picks and two pick swaps.

The Toronto Raptors are pretty much locked into a team that is now missing both of its starting wings from last season.

And without the monster trio that could have come together for the Lakers, several other teams can reasonably talk themselves into thinking they're contenders. The Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, Blazers, 76ers, Celtics, Bucks and, of course, Clippers all have a shot.

"The 11th-hour trade for Paul George sealed Kawhi's move to the Clippers," The Athletic's Frank Isola tweeted. "All these stars want to team up, and now the West is wide-open. That's good for NBA."

If Kawhi and George can rise to the top of this evermore unpredictable West, the legacies of both will be altered.

The Merc without a Mouth already halted two superteams: the 2014 Miami Heat and the 2019 Warriors. Now, he can forge a path no one ever has before.

"Leonard is the first player to join a new team after winning Finals MVP," ESPN's Marc J. Spears wrote. "Michael Jordan retired twice after winning Finals MVP."

Kawhi forfeited the chance to defend a team's title for the opportunity to defend his own. The Clippers can win it all. And if they do, it'll have plenty to do with Kawhi. Back-to-back Finals MVPs for two different teams? That would set Leonard alone in NBA folklore.

For Paul George, his name will now be attached to one of the biggest trade hauls in NBA history. As Wojnarowski called it, the Thunder received a "record-setting collection of draft choices."

For many stars of the NBA's recent past, living up to the cost hasn't been easy.

Derrick Favors had more wins over replacement player than Deron Williams after those two were traded for one another (on top of much more going to the Utah Jazz). The Denver Nuggets are 334-306 in the eight full seasons since they traded Carmelo Anthony. The New York Knicks are 253-387 in the same span. The Boston Celtics just lost Kyrie Irving for nothing, two years after trading for him.

Deron Williams ended up being a letdown for the Nets. Paul George and the Clippers will be hoping things play out differently for them.
Deron Williams ended up being a letdown for the Nets. Paul George and the Clippers will be hoping things play out differently for them.Colin E Braley/Associated Press

In the last three offseasons, PG has been traded for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, five first-round picks, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.

Will the hot-take artists of the future be able to justify all that if George doesn't win a title?

With Kawhi, he has a chance.

And, of course, this isn't just a two-man team.

Patrick Beverley was 11th among point guards in real plus-minus last season. Lou Williams is fresh off his third Sixth Man of the Year. He's averaged 25.8 points per 75 possessions during his time with the Clippers.

Maurice Harkless gives L.A. another switchy forward alongside George and Leonard. Montrezl Harrell was top 20 in both win shares per 48 minutes and box plus/minus last season. Landry Shamet was a positive contributor for two playoff teams—the Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers—as a rookie.

That's a stellar seven-man rotation. Throw in Ivica Zubac (yet to re-sign), Sindarius Thornwell, Jerome Robinson and Rodney McGruder, and you have some depth too.

Even with the West stacked, the Clippers became title contenders overnight. According to B/R Betting, the Clippers jumped from 10-1 to 5-1 to win the title.

If they win it all—this season or down the line—Kawhi and PG will both cement their places in NBA history.

The Merc without a Mouth will have his third title (and possibly third Finals MVP) with a third different team. George will have lived up to a massive trade haul, something Melo, D-Will and Kyrie can't claim.

Now, those potential legacies are tied to each other.

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