Less than a month after winning their first NBA championship, The Toronto Raptors will enter the new season without their franchise player.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers struck a blockbuster deal by signing Kawhi Leonard to a four-year, $142 million contract and also bringing him his future co-star Paul George via trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Clippers, who were previously thought out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes over the past few days, made a gamble of a lifetime by sending a record-setting amount of draft picks along with promising young player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and productive veteran Danilo Gallinari to Thunder in exchange for George.

By securing last season’s MVP and Defensive Player of the Year finalist, the Clippers also won the service of Leonard, putting them head-to-head with the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference arms race.

The Late Night Bidding War

According to Sr. NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Kawhi’s decision boiled to which team would win the bidding war for Paul George.

The NBA insider reported that Leonard recruited George in the early days of free agency, asking his fellow All-Star to find a way out of OKC and form a dynamic tandem with him either with the Clippers or the Raptors.

Thunder GM Sam Presti knew it would be a hopeless cause to keep an unhappy star on the team, especially with the growing disconnect between George and mainstay point guard Russell Westbrook. So, Presti basically held a bidding war between the Clippers and the Raptors with the hope of getting more value out of his disgruntled star, and the rest was history.

“In a wild night of negotiations, Presti leveraged the Clippers and Raptors off each other, preying on the uncertainties of what the other might be willing to give OKC for the chance to secure Leonard and George -- and perhaps the inside track on a championship.”

Wojnarowski added league sources told him that Presti pursued a package of Russell Westbrook with George to the Raptors in exchange for Pascal Siakam as the deal centerpiece, but Ujiri was unwilling to sacrifice the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

In the end, the Clippers ultimately made the bold move by essentially sacrificing their future for a chance to win now with their two newly-acquired stars at the peak of their prime.

“The Clippers became the last line of defense for the balance of power in the NBA -- never mind the fledgling franchise's own future. The Clippers had come to believe that without a deal for George, Leonard was prepared to sign with the Lakers and create a Staples Center partnership of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Leonard, sources said,” Wojnarowski wrote on his ESPN report.

The Raptors are moving on

By losing Leonard for nothing, Toronto officially concedes the throne of the East to the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers, who are the two biggest players in this free agency saga.

While it’s safe to say the Raptors are no longer a title contender, this team is still projected to reach the playoff and perhaps clinch a home court advantage in the first round.

But unless Ujiri pulls off another shocking deal, Toronto is heading to mediocrity once more.

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