Why the LA Clippers had to trade Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the LA Clippers’ prized rookie, is now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder — and for good reason.

On Friday night, n a monumental, blockbuster, earth-shattering trade, the LA Clippers sent the Oklahoma City Thunder five first round picks (three of their own and two of Miami’s) along with Danilo Gallinari and their prized prospect, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in exchange for Paul George.

It has long been known that Gilgeous-Alexander was virtually untouchable for the Clippers. They got out in front of things when Anthony Davis was made available in New Orleans, putting out that SGA was a non-starter in any deal for Davis. In fact, it’s been widely believe that Gilgeous-Alexander would have been off-limits in basically any trade.

In Gilgeous-Alexander, the Clippers held their key to the future. A future aspiring towards perennial title contention, league domination, and a further re-shaping of the Clippers’ public image. To many of us, that meant riding out the growing pains and watching a young man blossom into the All-Star-caliber player he clearly is. And we would all have been more than happy to witness that growth! He’s an incredible young player and an even better person. But the Clippers’ front office wound up delivering that end goal in a different way.

Rather than taking the long road to NBA title contention, Lawrence Frank, Jerry West, and Co. saw a potential opening with the Kawhi Leonard unrest in San Antonio. An elite basketball talent on an All-World level that not only was on the lookout for a contract with a new team, but with one that’s located in Southern California in particular. Not to mention the fact that he may not have been super keen on teaming up with LeBron James. It was the perfect storm for the Clippers.

Although they were caught off-guard by this just as the rest of the league, the Clippers attempted to make their move as soon as Leonard made his intentions known. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have the assets to get a deal down with San Antonio. With Tobias Harris and two blank draft picks as the only trade bait, they Clippers would be forced to bide their time…

Fast-forward to the end of the 2018-19 season and things were a bit different for the LA Clippers. Throughout the season and even into the off-season, the team was making moves — stockpiling assets and developing their youth until, finally, another opportunity to acquire Leonard arose in free agency.

This time, the Clippers came prepared. However, as prepped as they were, they faced stiff competition. The cross-town rival Lakers had just put together their own massive trade for Davis, pairing him with James; and the incumbent team for Leonard just so happened to be the newly minted NBA Champion Toronto Raptors. Come to think about it, “stiff competition” might be an understatement.

The Clippers had something the other two teams didn’t, though: Extreme depth. Depth that could not only benefit them on the court but benefit the front office as well. When Kawhi told them that they simply need acquire George to enlist his services, that was all the Clippers’ front office needed to hear to put that depth to work.

As much as it stung for all the fans and everyone in the organization, the Clippers were forced to give up their top prospect. Gilgeous-Alexander, who had laid it all on the line for this organization since before he was drafted, had to be a part of the deal for Leonard’s running-mate. The deal for George. A player who may likely have won an MVP in 2018-19, had he not injured his shoulder. A player who grew up a fan of the LA Clippers and wanted nothing more than to come home.

The Clippers gave up a lot. In the words of ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers gave up a “record-setting collection of draft choices” — three of their own and two of Miami’s future first round picks on top of SGA and Gallinari.

Gallinari was an expiring conract and the picks may or may not be of significant value, but the biggest question mark for Clippers fans was why SGA? Wasn’t he supposed to be an integral part of this Clippers squad moving forward? Couldn’t the Clippers have included someone else in the deal?

Well, yes and no. Should the Clippers have struck out on Kawhi this off-season, they’d have been perfectly content to run things back. Develop their young core and stay loaded for their next opportunity. But, as previously noted, Shai was indeed the Clippers’ key to the future. It just so happened to be that in order for him to unlock that bright future, he had to be moved as the centerpiece of a deal for a more proven commodity. For OKC, SGA was their return on investment and no other player or combination of players would match that value.

As far as immediate reactions go, some proposed that the LA Clippers forfeited too much for young Gilgeous-Alexander. Purporting that SGA on top of the massive draft picks haul was overkill for George. However, what they would be failing to consider is the fact that if the Clippers front office had decided that they weren’t willing to go through with these terms of the trade, they’d likely have missed out on Leonard as well.

In essence, the trade that the Clippers made was for both Leonard and George, two bonafide superstar talents in the NBA. Players the likes of which teams hope their most promising prospects will grow into. It was unfortunate, yet necessary that Gilgeous-Alexander be included in this trade. When weighing the options, the Clippers could either make the decision to assemble a title contender now or hope that he could lead them to the same point in the future. Logically speaking, it only made sense for them to take the sure bet and launch the team into immediate title contention.

LA Clippers fans the world over grew quite fond of Gilgeous-Alexander over the last 12 months. He was our collective large Canadian son and we’ll forever cherish him as such. But when it came down to it, adding two superstars outweighs the retention of one potential All-Star. If the Clippers should ever win anything of substance, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be one of the names brought up in memory of all those that came before. And rightly so.