The Clippers gave up an enormous bounty to the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire George and, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the fear of Leonard potentially signing with the Lakers and creating the league's next dynasty alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis was motivation to give a small fortune of assets:
"The Clippers became the last line of defense for the balance of power in the NBA—never mind the franchise's own future. The Clippers had come to believe that, without a deal for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers and create a Staples Center partnership with James and Davis, sources said.
"Had Leonard joined the Lakers, they would have been overwhelming title favorites, and it perhaps would have thrust the Clippers back into the franchise's dark ages."
Make no mistake—the price the Clippers paid was steep.
The Clippers sent the Thunder Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and "unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025," per Wojnarowski.
According to Woj, the Raptors were also in trade talks with the Thunder after it became clear that Leonard had convinced George to team up with him and George pushed for a trade out of OKC, though the Raptors didn't have the assets to match the Clippers' historic offer.
But he added the Raptors were in the running:
"In a wild night of negotiations, Presti leveraged the Clippers and Raptors off each other, preying on the uncertainties of what the other might be willing to give Oklahoma City for the chance to secure Leonard and George—and perhaps the inside track on a championship.
"Clippers leadership—Steve Ballmer, Lawrence Frank and general manager Michael Winger—harbored fears that Sam Presti was close to striking a deal with Toronto that would have delivered George to the NBA champions, sources said."
In a vacuum, the Clippers overpaid for George. But they didn't just acquire George, they also acquired Leonard, and if the trade package is viewed through the lens of landing the Clippers two stars, it suddenly seems like a slightly less steep price to pay.
But the move was also the final validation for a Clippers team that has rebuilt itself under the leadership of Ballmer, Frank, Winger, head coach Doc Rivers and Jerry West. It's hard to see the Clippers as the "little brother" of Los Angeles now, with Leonard and George choosing to team up there.
The battle for L.A. is very, very real now. In one corner, James, Davis and the prestige of the Lakers. In the other, Leonard, George and the impressive front office and organizational stability of the Clippers. Nobody beats the Lakers for drama. But nobody beat Leonard in a seven-game series this last postseason.
The Clippers banked quite a lot on that being the case for the foreseeable future, too.