Raptors almost had Paul George, Kawhi Leonard in 2019: ‘We were going to Toronto,’ says 76ers star

Raptors almost had Paul George, Kawhi Leonard in 2019: ‘We were going to Toronto,’ says 76ers star

Raptors fans struggling with the rebuilding period may want to ignore this.

At the start of free agency, star forward Paul George agreed to a sign-and-trade with the 76ers, ending his five-year tenure with the Clippers.

George landed in Los Angeles in the summer of 2019, where he joined forces with his superstar teammate Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard had just returned from leading Toronto to his first-ever NBA title, and George was at the height of his career, finishing as a finalist for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard’s unrestricted free agency was the biggest story of the summer, garnering stalker-level coverage across Canada as Raptors fans followed his every move, meeting and escape.

Toronto’s hopes of a repeat were dashed on July 6, 2019. Leonard ultimately chose the Clippers as his next destination, and Los Angeles immediately arranged a sign-and-trade with the Thunder to pair the 2019 Finals MVP with George.

George reflected on ‘Podcast P with Paul George’ on the story that brought him and Leonard to Los Angeles, revealing that the duo almost ended up in Toronto.

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Raptors almost signed Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in 2019

George was asked about the conversations that led to him and Leonard joining the Clippers in the summer of 2019. The newly minted 76ers star said the duo had to choose between Los Angeles and Toronto.

“I was about to go to Toronto,” George began.

“We decided to go to Toronto or the Clippers. Ultimately, the Clippers put together a better trade package that sent me to LA. But I was close. He was going to re-sign with Toronto and we were going to go to Toronto.”

In retrospect, it’s hard to fault Oklahoma City for choosing the Clippers’ trade package. Regardless of what the Raptors offered, LA’s haul for George looks more like a heist as the years go by.

The Thunder acquired future MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps for George. The deal set the tone for Oklahoma City’s promising young roster to earn the No. 1 seed in the West just five years after the trade.

George went on to describe the conversations he had with Leonard that led to the decision to work together, including a meeting at Drake’s home in Los Angeles.

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“Yes, absolutely,” George replied when asked if there was any truth to the meeting with Leonard at Drake.

“We hooked up. Drake’s house, when he lived in Hidden Hills, I lived in Hidden Hills at the time. Drake was probably five minutes around the corner from me. Kawhi was like, ‘Come on over. Let’s chop it up.’

“So I came in. We chopped it up, what it would look like, how it would happen if there was even a chance (to work together). … That was kind of the next phase of us working together and talking about it.”

However, George confirmed that Drake, the Raptors’ Global Ambassador, was not present at the meeting with Leonard.

“… Drake was actually out of town. I was like, ‘Oh s—, Drake’s out there? I’m gonna hang out with both of you. But Drizzy wasn’t there.”

As they say, the rest is history.

The Raptors have made the playoffs just twice since Leonard’s departure, but the Clippers haven’t had much more success.

Despite championship expectations, Los Angeles made one Conference Finals appearance, one Conference Semifinal appearance, and two first-round exits, a sign of the Leonard and George era.

We’ll leave it to your imagination to imagine what would have happened if the two had worked together in Toronto.