Paul George had a solid 2019-20 regular season for the Los Angeles Clippers as Kawhi Leonard’s “Robin.” He appeared in 48 games and averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 41.2 percent from beyond the arc and 87.6 percent from the free-throw line.
Behind Leonard and George, the Clippers won 49 games in the shortened regular season and secured the No. 2 seed in the West. Fans of the club were looking forward to the two California natives leading the Clippers on a championship run.
While that is still possible, the early playoff returns on George have been concerning. He’s averaging 15.3 points through four games against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and shooting a woeful 29.0 percent from the field and 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
George has plenty of time to turn things around, but right now, it’s fair to wonder if Leonard made a mistake recruiting George to the Clippers and should have instead picked another superstar to play with.
Leonard, though, actually tried to recruit Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler to the Clippers before reaching out to George. Per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN, Leonard called Durant and told the 7-footer they’d be “great complements to each other.”
In the end, though, Durant signed with the Brooklyn Nets, but he was “flattered” by Leonard’s recruitment, via Shelburne:
“Then Durant got a call from Kawhi Leonard, asking if he’d consider teaming up with him and signing with the LA Clippers. They’d be great complements to each other, Leonard told Durant. He’d always admired him and had tremendous respect for him as a competitor.
“Durant was flattered and more than a little stunned, according to sources close to the situation. He didn’t know Leonard that well, so getting a recruiting call like that made a real impression.”
Durant would have missed the entire 2019-20 season for the Clippers, so he wouldn’t have been playing in the 2020 playoffs with Leonard. The two-time Finals MVP is recovering from the Achilles tear he suffered in Game 6 of the 2019 Finals with the Golden State Warriors. Ironically, he was playing against Leonard, who was starring for the Toronto Raptors.
Even though Durant wasn’t going to play in 2019-20, there’s a chance the Clippers may have been able to keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had they been able to get Durant instead of George. LA had to send Gilgeous-Alexander and a ton of draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for George.
Durant, meanwhile, was an unrestricted free agent like Leonard last offseason, so the Clippers could have signed KD without giving up much of anything. However, it’s worth mentioning the Warriors and Nets pulled off a sign-and-trade deal involving Durant, mostly due to KD helping the Dubs out. Golden State acquired D’Angelo Russell and the Nets got Durant and a few other draft picks.
But assuming the Clippers kept Gilgeous-Alexander and signed Durant, they’d have Leonard and SGA leading the way this season, and then Durant, Leonard and Gilgeous-Alexander would form their Big 3 in 2020-21.
Gilgeous-Alexander is playing well for the Thunder in their playoff series against the Houston Rockets, production the Clippers could have used instead of George’s.
Leonard also reached out to Butler last offseason about teaming up on the Clippers. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Leonard asked Durant and Butler about playing together because George was under contract with the Thunder and he didn’t know if it was going to be possible to get PG-13 to Los Angeles:
“Basically, the whole week of free agency is when he zeroed in on Paul George. Ya know, he didn’t start there. He made a run at Jimmy Butler first, and that was going on even during the playoffs. And he also explored Kevin Durant. ‘Kevin, would you come to the Clippers with me?’ … We’ve known the Clippers have wanted Kawhi for a very long time. But Kawhi wanted to be joined by an elite-level player. And I’m not trying to suggest that Paul was his third choice. They’re obviously friends and he loves Paul George, but Paul George wasn’t gettable. He has three more years on his contract, two before a player option. So you wouldn’t have targeted Paul George first because even Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t have thought he was available.”
In the end, Leonard pulled off a coup and got the Clippers to trade for George. However, Butler may have been an upgrade over George since the Texas native doesn’t shrink in the playoffs.
If Butler isn’t hitting his outside shot in a postseason game, he’s still going to get to the free-throw line and fill up the stat sheet. Against the Mavs right now, George isn’t hitting anything or getting into the lane and being a playmaker. Since he’s a six-time All-Star, odds are George won’t continue to shoot the ball this poorly, but it’s ugly right now.
There’s no guarantee the Clippers are going to win a championship in the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George era since George has a history of struggling in the postseason, and Clippers fans are seeing that front and center in the Mavs series.