Clippers fly with double coup

Kawhi Leonard going for a shot for the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, California last month. Toronto won the series 4-2 for their first title and it was his only season with the team. Leonard
Kawhi Leonard going for a shot for the Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, California last month. Toronto won the series 4-2 for their first title and it was his only season with the team. Leonard picked the Clippers over Lakers, where he could have formed a super team with LeBron James and new boy Anthony Davis.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LA natives Leonard and George sign up to boost team's NBA title prospects

LOS ANGELES • The Los Angeles Clippers, who have never even reached the Conference Finals, have always been seen as inferior to cross-town rivals Lakers, who won 11 of their 16 National Basketball Association titles after moving to LA.

That is why Lawrence Frank, the Clippers' president of basketball operations, called Kawhi Leonard's decision to commit his immediate future to the team a "historic moment for our organisation and our fans".

The return of two LA natives would elevate the Clippers to the lengthening list of title contenders. On Wednesday, the same day that a trade for Paul George was completed, came the confirmation that Leonard, the NBA Finals' Most Valuable Player, has signed a three-year, US$103 million (S$139.5 million) maximum contract.

Said Frank: "We're grateful and honoured that Kawhi Leonard has decided to come home and join the LA Clippers.

"He is a peerless two-way player, a relentless worker and a natural fit for the serious, professional culture our group has established.

"He wins everywhere he goes, and he always has, from (Martin Luther) King High School to San Diego State (University) to the NBA. His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships."

It was originally reported that Leonard, who just led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title after he was acquired in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs last July, would get four years and US$142 million.

PEERLESS

He wins everywhere he goes, and he always has, from (Martin Luther) King High School to San Diego State (University) to the NBA. His expectation, and ours, is to contend for championships.

LAWRENCE FRANK, the Clippers' president of basketball operations, who has high regard for Kawhi Leonard.


KEY ADDITION

Following the lead of (owner ) Steve Ballmer, we have plotted an aggressive course to build a championship contender, and acquiring Paul is a critical step.

FRANK, on Paul George's arrival.

But his deal will be for two years guaranteed with a third-year player option, according to The Athletic. That would allow the 28-year-old to opt out and become a free agent again in 2021.

Oklahoma City's George, whose acquisition convinced Leonard to sign, also has two years guaranteed and a player option.

"Paul is one of the greatest two-way players in our game," said Frank of the 29-year-old forward who averaged career highs of 28.0 points and 8.2 rebounds last term.

"He is both an elite scorer and a relentless defender whose versatility elevates any team.

"When you have the opportunity to acquire a contributor of his calibre, you do what it takes to bring him home. Paul is a native of the Los Angeles area and an ideal fit for the Clippers, thanks to his selflessness and drive.

"Following the lead of (owner) Steve Ballmer, we have plotted an aggressive course to build a championship contender, and acquiring Paul is a critical step."

The limelight-averse Leonard reportedly selected the Clippers over his former team and the glamorous Lakers, where he could have formed a super team with LeBron James and new boy Anthony Davis.

According to Canadian broadcaster TSN, Leonard made "unreasonable" demands of the Raptors during contract talks.

The forward averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over 60 regular-season games with the Raptors in 2018-19 before improving, over 24 play-off games, to 30.5 points with 9.1 rebounds, to earn his second Finals MVP crown. His first came with the Spurs in 2014.

The Clippers have never advanced past the second round of the play-offs, making just 14 trips to the post-season since their founding in 1970.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2019, with the headline 'Clippers fly with double coup'. Print Edition | Subscribe