Kawhi Leonard is first reigning Finals MVP winner in history to leave for a new team
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled one of the all-time NBA free agency heists in the middle of the night, trading for Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George and coming to terms with Kawhi Leonard to form one of the most dangerous partnerships in the league.
Leonard had apparently turned his attention to recruiting George as soon as it became apparent that he would not be able to sway Kevin Durant towards signing in Los Angeles. The Toronto Raptors still had the final say in making a move that might convince Leonard to stay, but they simply did not have the kind of assets that the Thunder desired in any hypothetical move to acquire George.
With his departure from Toronto now official, Leonard becomes the first reigning NBA Finals MVP winner to join a new team after winning the award:
New #Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard is the first player to join a new team after winning the #NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award (Raptors, 2019), according to @ESPNStatsInfo. Michael Jordan retired twice after winning Finals MVP.
— Marc J. Spears (@MarcJSpearsESPN) July 6, 2019
Leonard wanted to keep his free agency process as quiet and personal as possible, suiting his character perfectly. However, the rumors swirled with each passing day.
ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski had reported that Leonard and Durant were hoping to team up. Shortly thereafter, Jalen Rose had said he believed that Leonard was “99.9 percent” returning to the Raptors. Rose’s belief seemed to be confirmed when Leonard’s private plane was spotted landing in Toronto.
But there was no decision to be made on the Fourth of July, and it quickly became clear that Leonard had yet to make up his mind yesterday as well. In the middle of the night, everything would change.
The preseason feeling that Toronto would merely be a layover for Leonard have ultimately proven to be true, but the city will never forget the contributions that he made in delivering the franchise its first championship.