The Chris Paul trade that allowed the Clippers to eventually land Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
The Los Angeles Clippers stole the show this past offseason, somehow upstaging the Los Angeles Lakers’ trade of Anthony Davis and the Brooklyn Nets’ free-agent coup of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving by landing both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
George came first, as the Clippers swung a blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire the superstar wing, which was basically a necessity in order to get Leonard to sign.
Now, Los Angeles is widely viewed as the chief title contender in the NBA for the first time in the history of its franchise.
But the precursor to that monstrous summer by the Clippers began in June 2017.
At that time, LA was giving up on its dreams of winning a championship with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and with Paul coming up for free agency that offseason, it conducted a sign-and-trade to send Paul to the Houston Rockets.
In that deal, the Clippers landed names like Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, three players who ended up being key components on a surprising Clips team that won 48 games and actually pushed the Golden State Warriors in the first round last season.
They also ended up being key components in helping Los Angeles build a super team.
The Clippers may not have ever even made it past the second round with Paul, but Paul still helped them turn their franchise around put the club in a position to land Leonard and George in 2019.
Without that Paul trade, Los Angeles probably would not have been able to convince Leonard and George that it was a championship-caliber team, because the pieces it received in the deal became absolutely vital.
At the time, you may not have thought much of Williams and Beverley, and Harrell was very unproven. But look what they have helped transform the Clippers into.
Not only did the Clips forego paying Paul a massive salary that would have crippled them moving forward, but they landed a few really nice players that helped forge a new identity which ultimately led to LA putting together arguably the best duo in basketball.
Compare that to how the Paul trade worked out for the Houston Rockets, who gave Paul a humongous contract, only to trade him to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook (another player with a long, expensive deal) two years into it because they realized the Paul-James Harden pairing wasn’t working.
Next Monday, the Clippers will host the Thunder for their first of three meetings this season, and while it isn’t exactly a glamorous matchup, it will be viewed as a symbol of just how far Los Angeles has come.
Of course, there are no guarantees. The Clippers aren’t assured a title, and George has not even played a game with the club yet, as he has been recovering from multiple offseason shoulder surgeries and will make his debut on Thursday.
But one thing is for sure: the Clips are in a better position to win a championship than all other 31 teams in the NBA, and it all started just over two years ago, when the Clippers appeared to be entering teardown mode.
Talk about a quick rebuild.