Revisiting OKC Thunder franchise altering blockbuster Paul George trade

Former OKC Thunder star Paul George and Kawhi Leonard #2 LA Clippers (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Former OKC Thunder star Paul George and Kawhi Leonard #2 LA Clippers (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) /
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OKC Thunder
Coby White #0 of the Chicago Bulls drives in between (L-R) Chris Paul #3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2, Danilo Gallinari #8 and Steven Adams #12 of the OKC Thunder (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

With Paul George and the Clippers in town to play the OKC Thunder, T.I. revisits the blockbuster trade from this summer that altered two franchises.

Almost exactly eight months ago Paul George and his management team contacted OKC Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti to request a trade to the LA Clippers. Over the next few days, the GM worked the phones in an effort to make the two-way superstars demand a reality.

Oh to be a fly in the wall of Presti’s office to learn all the semantics behind the trade. Did he, for example, consider taking the Spurs, RC Bufford route?  To wit, one season prior the Spurs GM shipped Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors shocking everyone in the Association. It met the trade demands of Leonard but not the location. It also resulted in the Toronto Raptors’ first NBA Championship.

Based on reports Presti also reached out to Leonard’s current team to discuss trade options with Masai Ujiri. Whether other trade options were pursued is uncertain. The Raptors President of Basketball Operation later stated the organization never took the trade seriously given the assets requested. A fact cemented by the fact the deal was never taken to the MLSE Board for consideration.

George had essentially put the Thunder firmly between a rock and a hard place.

Presti couldn’t actively work the phones for other trade options as it would risk the demand becoming public. If that occurred all the leverage Presti had disappeared. With George and Leonard holding all the power, acting swiftly and quietly was the only advantage the GM held. The way Presti turned that advantage into a historical deal is the stuff legends (and dare we say future champions) are made of.

The Deal:

In return for the services of George, the Clippers paid dearly. Coming back to the Thunder were rookie talent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and underrated stretch four Danilo Gallinari. The draft picks, however, were the shocking part of the equation. as four unprotected picks, one protected and two draft swaps rounded out the trade package.


  • Unprotected: 2022, 2024, 2026 all from Clippers plus the Heat’s 2021 pick
  • Protected: Heat’s 2023 pick (protected 1 through 14)
  • Swaps: 2023 and 2025 (right to swap with Clippers)

This was the haul of hauls with no true comparable one player trade to compare. Other blockbuster deals have gone down but nothing on this scale and typically those deals involved multiple players.

It was by far the biggest deal of the offseason. Moreover, depending on what happens in the next two seasons in LA it could also eventually be viewed as a one-sided deal.

It was expected the Clippers would sign Leonard to a four-year deal but even in this matter, the reigning NBA Finals MVP got the upper hand. After cajoling the Clippers into forfeiting their future he signed a three-year deal with an option.

This means both Leonard and George can opt out at the end of next season. Consider that for a moment — while the Thunder will be conveying picks for the next seven years both LA superstars could be wearing another jersey for five of those campaigns if things don’t go as planned.

It could all be a moot point if the Clippers win the Larry O’B this season or next. If that comes to pass then no doubt owner Steve Ballmer will have viewed it as money well spent. It would also likely guarantee the re-signing of Leonard and George. Although the Clippers will soon be in a similar position as the Lakers needing to surround their stars with vets on minimum deals or undrafted talents since OKC owns their future.