Paul George was ‘close’ to joining Kawhi Leonard on Raptors instead of Clippers

On the day the Toronto Raptors made their signings of Scottie Barnes and Immanuel Quickley official, with the tagline “future starts now,” it didn’t stop some from looking into the past.

Paul George, within hours of being officially introduced as a Philadelphia 76er on Monday, released a new episode of his show Podcast P with Paul George to go over topics like his departure from the Los Angeles Clippers.

While doing so, he outlined how close the last five seasons in his hometown came to not happening, as there was a real possibility he could’ve joined Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors following their 2019 championship run.

“I was close to going to Toronto,” George said. “We were deciding to go to Toronto or the Clippers, ultimately the Clippers put … a better trade package together that sent me to LA.

“But I was close, he was going to re-sign to Toronto and we were going to go to Toronto.”

Oh, what could have been.

Instead, Leonard, fresh off capturing Finals MVP while leading the Raptors to their first title in franchise history, opted to go home.

The six-time All-Star ended up signing a three-year, $103 million deal to join the Clippers — choosing that over a potential five-year, $190 contract he could’ve gotten to re-sign in Toronto to run it back.

And the trade the Clippers made to acquire George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the one that supposedly outbid the Raptors, included Canadian Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-rounder and two pick swaps.

Since joining forces in 2019, it’s hard to imagine things have panned out how the duo or the Clippers organization had hoped to this point. Both George and Leonard have missed chunks of time throughout the last five years due to various injuries, subsequently winning just two playoff series in that span.

The furthest the pair could take the Clippers in the postseason was a Western Conference Finals appearance in 2021 and are coming off back-to-back first-round exits.

Add the fact that contract talks stalled between George and Los Angeles, and the grass began to look greener on the other side for the nine-time All-Star. He decided to sign with the 76ers this off-season on a four-year, $212 million maximum contract.

For what it’s worth, he at least let Leonard know about it before he left.

Meanwhile, the Raptors haven’t had much postseason success since then either, having won just one series in two playoff appearances since.

But as far as looking forward goes, they appear to have a clearer direction considering the Clippers, after signing Leonard to his second extension since joining the team (three-year, $149.5 million), just lost his running mate and nine-time All-Star.

At the very least, after re-signing Barnes to a rookie-scale maximum extension (five-year, up to $270 million) and retaining Quickley on a five-year, $175 million deal, the Raptors nucleus is locked in for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and Toronto also wasn’t the team to ship off a future MVP finalist in Gilgeous-Alexander… but in fairness, hindsight is 20-20.

Details of what kind of offer the Raptors even put on the table to try and acquire George remains a mystery, and there’s no certainty it would’ve led them on another championship run.

We can look back and ponder over what might’ve been but at the end of the day, like it’s already been said, the “future starts now.”

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