In many ways, the Clippers’ summer rested on their trade for Paul George. Without that move, it’s unclear if they land Kawhi Leonard as a free agent. If they don’t make that deal, even if they do get Kawhi, next season would take a much different shape, and the Clippers’ other acquisitions and signings this summer might not have happened. That said, here are our writer’s grades on the Paul George trade, taking it as separately from the rest of the summer as possible.
Eric Patten: A
Paul George has long been one of my favorite players. I recall multiple stories of the internal strife around not selecting George when the Clippers had the chance, and positional need, in 2010. Until the last season and a half, small forward had been, historically, the most challenging position for the Clippers to fill. There were draft misses, free agent misses, and a lack of prioritizing the position through basically forever. All of that changed when the Clippers bet the future on George and Kawhi Leonard teaming with their current group. George is as good of a two-way player as there is in the game, and the only person demonstrably better will suit up alongside him. It’s going to be ridiculous. Of course, there have always been questions about George as an alpha, but this is a problem rectified by Leonard, and to a lesser extent, Lou Williams being more than willing to take crunch time shots. And while there may be lingering shoulder issues, he had offseason surgery to correct them, and he was pretty effective even with them hurt down the stretch in OKC. Giving up the draft assets and Shai is tough, but this move is to win now and is an “A” for the Clippers without a doubt.
Thomas Wood: A-
It’s an A, because OF COURSE you do it. It’s a minus for the immense value of outgoing assets. It’s a minus for the risk that this enterprise might break ugly on a timeline shorter than is usually earned by such an outlay. It’s a minus for the little beat between when I, as the hypothetical decision maker, might’ve been presented the offer before signing off on said offer, or the brief exhale and the, “Man, that’s a lot,” before the “OK”. The minus is for the twinge in the emotional center of my body for the sudden and unanticipated farewell I’ve had to offer Shai. The minus is for Paul George’s shoulder, which was recently operated on. The minus is for Paul George’s other shoulder, which was also recently operated on. And the minus is for the clock, which has been set for two years, which in NBA years is like a blink and a sigh; it’s not much time at all.
This trade is an A because it might very well bring a championship. It’s a minus because the Clippers accepted a few extra avenues in which it doesn’t.
Kenneth Armstrong: A
When members of Clippers Nation imagined adding (only) Kawhi Leonard to the 2018-19 roster, we all thought that we’d be an elite team as a result. So, by extension, adding Paul George to the 2018-19 Clippers would be pretty dang close to elite, right? The man was a monster last year, even though he declined towards the end of the year. He’s a complete player who is in his prime, and has gotten better since sustaining a freak injury. That’s the way I think about this deal. One doesn’t even need to address the fact that it was made as part of a larger Kawhi-centered strategy. Adding Paul George to any team makes them significantly better — so it gets an A from me on those grounds alone. I loved Shai, but PG is the real deal.
Shapan Debnath: B
I mean, on paper, this certainly was an overpay, right? George is an elite, easily top 15 and arguably top 10 talent who’s still in his prime, but that’s a record setting number of picks, a solid expiring vet, and our beloved Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. So, this grade is looking at this in a vacuum without considering we’re also getting Kawhi. Part of me would knock it down a little more even, but it’s hard to do that when you know it was a necessary domino to bring in this great duo.
Max Jeffrey: A
Despite all of the silence and secrecy surrounding the Kawhi Leonard trade, just about everyone figured there was at least a 1-in-3 chance he would sign with the Clippers; when it actually came to fruition, it was stunning, nonetheless, though not a total surprise. Paul George getting traded to the Clippers, however, came out of nowhere and was an absolute shock. The Clippers did have to part ways with a would-be future franchise star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a very productive forward in Danilo Gallinari, and a bevy of first round draft picks to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder -- this is the only reason this trade gets a grade of an A rather than an A+.
But it was a beyond-worthwhile trade, because it wasn’t simply as though they were trading for George alone. They were trading for the ability to pair George and Leonard together. In doing so, they’ve paired the two best two-way players in the NBA, atop arguably the deepest roster in the league. And, while it’s nearly impossible to discuss the acquisition of George without mentioning Leonard, it must be noted that George is a legitimate superstar on his own -- he is efficient, extremely versatile, and finished 3rd in MVP voting last season. Bringing in a superstar talent, who grew up a Clippers fan, who is from the LA area, and who is in his prime, was a no-brainer. That he is arguably the second-best player on a loaded roster should be terrifying for the rest of the Western Conference. Paul George can offensively and defensively play 3 different positions effectively and gives the Clippers so many options for managing their rotations. He wants to be in LA long-term, and Clippers fans should be very excited about the opportunity to watch a player of his caliber play for what has already been a very special team, and at such an important time for the organization.
Chris Murch: A
The Clippers wagered a whole lot of their own future to acquire Paul George, which was essentially a trade for George AND Kawhi when you break it down. George had the best individual season of his career last season, is considered one of the best wing defenders in the league, is long, athletic, a seemingly good teammate without much of an ego, and genuinely wants to play back home in L.A. and with the Clippers. Pairing him with Kawhi, probably the only other wing who is a better two-way guy, is a coup, and puts the Clippers at the top of the NBA, on paper. The only reason this isn’t an A+ is because the Clips gave up a lot for someone who has a pretty well known injury history (knee a few years ago, offseason rotator cuff surgery this summer) and might not even be ready for the start of the season. However, if PG is healthy....watch out.
Robert Flom: B-
I think one’s grade on this deal depends largely on how you view Paul George’s last season. He had (by a massive margin) the best year of his career in 2018-2019, putting up career highs in points per game (4.3 margin to next-best year), rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, and threes and free throws made and attempted. In other words, he leaped in almost every direction as a basketball player. Aged 28, and now years removed from his catastrophic leg injury, the question remains — was this a breakout season from star to superstar, or was it an outlier year for a great, but not all-time level player?
I split the difference on that question, recognizing that George has undoubtedly taken steps forward, while being somewhat doubtful of his ability to replicate last season statistically. Taken from that lens, the trade for George (in a vacuum) was an overpay. And yes, even if George is more of a top 15 player than a top 7 player, he’s still playoff-proven and battle-tested in a way that should be of immense value when the games matter most. But, objectively, they gave away almost the entirety of the team’s future for a guy who I’m just not quite sure is the level of talent to warrant such a cost. If George puts up another season like 2018-2019, or the Clippers win the championship, than the overpay will have been worth it. If not, well, the Clippers could be in big trouble in a few years. There’s some real downside with this trade, and while the upside is most definitely worth the gamble, even one injury to George or Kawhi could derail the whole operation. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.