After leading the Toronto Raptors on an exhilarating run to the NBA championship and reclaiming his spot at the absolute upper echelon of basketball today, Kawhi Leonard has decided to return to return closer to his California roots.
Confirming initial reports from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and others, league sources say Leonard is leaving the Raptors for the Los Angeles Clippers and has convinced Paul George of the Oklahoma City Thunder to demand a trade there as well.
Leonard is reportedly getting a four-year deal worth $142 million and the cost to the Clippers to acquire George includes four first-round draft pick.
As well as losing Leonard, the Raptors will watch Danny Green head to the Los Angeles Lakers on a two-year, $30 million contact according to EPSN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski and others.
The Leonard move, which can’t become official until the league’s signing moratorium is lifted Saturday at noon, ends days of wild speculation, some of it informed, some of it manufactured, none of it coming from either Leonard or the Raptors.
In the end, the 28-year-old Leonard turned away advances from both the Los Angeles Lakers and a chance to re-sign with NBA champion Raptors to take another shot at the title.
The departure is a blow for Toronto, Raptors president Masai Ujiri, general manager Bobby Webster, coach Nick Nurse and Leonard’s teammates, all central to Leonard’s year that culminated in him winning an NBA Finals most valuable player award for the second time in his career.
After missing all but nine games of the 2017-18 season with the San Antonio Spurs because of a nagging leg injury he never felt was treated correctly, Leonard joined Toronto in a blockbuster deal for DeMar DeRozan almost exactly one year ago.
With some of the most intensive care and rehabilitation program a player of his stature has ever undergone, Leonard returned to being one of the best players in the league and rediscovered his joy for the sport.
“I wasn’t going to come back until I could be the player I am today,” he said after Toronto’s six-game victory over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. “I wanted to come back in the same shape and form without coming out playing five games and then re-injuring something. I wanted to be able to play the season — or what did I this year. I wasn’t able to play 82, but I’m happy that I got to the 60 games.
“Just being able to win this championship this year is just something special for me because you know how the last year everybody was looking at me, and I stayed true to myself, and I had a great support system. And once I got here to Toronto they understood everything and kept moving from there.”
Along the way, Leonard provided Raptors fans with some of the most iconic moments in the 25-year history of the franchise.
His shot that bounced around the rim four times before falling into to beat the Philadelphia 76ers at the buzzer of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals will be remembered as the most dramatic shot ever made by a Ratpor.
His left-handed dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo turned the tied in the Eastern Conference finals and will be the most memorable moment of Toronto’s six-game triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks.