January 20, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Clippers’ Paul George gets contract extension, wants trophy

As part of the contract extension signed Thursday by Paul George, the Clippers are committing nearly a quarter-billion dollars to their All-Star forward.

In return for that investment, George said he feels a responsibility to give a franchise bereft of postseason success for 50 years something that might as well be priceless.

“I owe ‘em a trophy,” George said on a videoconference. “That’s what I owe this organization. This is a window that we’re trying to capture. And my commitment and my job is to try to bring a title here.”

George will play this season on the final year of his current contract before the four-year extension worth around $190 million kicks in. He holds a player option for the 2024-25 season, according to two people with knowledge of the deal not authorized to discuss its terms publicly, the same year the Clippers hope to open a new arena in Inglewood. In total, George is slated to earn around $226 million over the next five years.

If the cost was high, so were the stakes to keep him. The Clippers acquired George in 2019 by sending a massive haul of two starters, five draft picks and two pick swaps to Oklahoma City, with no guarantee the forward or Kawhi Leonard, whose free-agency signing was coordinated with the acquisition of George, would remain Clippers for longer than two seasons. Both were eligible to become free agents in 2021.

Both were also the cornerstones supporting the championship ambitions of a franchise that throughout its history has rarely attracted marquee stars.

“I think it’s a really significant moment for the franchise,” said Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations. “It’s one thing to acquire a great player like Paul. It’s another thing to retain him and we’re extremely honored that he trusts the organization with this chapter of his career.”

League sources described optimism from the Clippers that Leonard will be part of that next chapter too, though there is no way for the team to lock up the two-time Finals most valuable player until next summer because, unlike George, Leonard is not currently eligible to sign an extension.

“We’ll never make any assumptions about anyone’s decisions,” Frank said, “but we’re super excited about the kinship and the brotherhood that both those guys have formed.”

Said George: “I won’t put words in another man’s mouth, but I’m hopeful.”

The duo had discussed teaming up earlier in their career and it was a phone call from Leonard in June 2019, in response to a text from George congratulating the star on his second NBA title, that put their plan in motion, as George recalled during an appearance on the All The Smoke podcast.

Despite a season in which the Clippers were rarely on the same page, either in the locker room or on the court because of injuries and simmering chemistry issues, George said his relationship with Leonard emerged strong.

“Hopefully it’s a mutual bond and we both enjoy playing with one another,” George said of Leonard. “Everybody’s got their own decisions to make and hopefully me showing my commitment, being here and wanting to play with him long term sticks out.”

George could have preserved his options by rebuffing extension talks, declining his player option for next season and testing free agency, but an extension was viewed as inevitable, according to people with knowledge of his thinking.

As a free agent in 2018, George opted for a four-year contract with Oklahoma City with such a result in mind. Only four years removed from suffering a gruesome compound leg fracture during a USA Basketball scrimmage, George wanted to lock in guaranteed, long-term money, yet a four-year contract also made him eligible for an extension after the second year. A five-year deal, by contrast, would have required he wait an extra year to sign an extension.

After the Clippers acquired George, he and the team opened a running dialogue about his future with the team. It became clear the Palmdale native who began his career in Indianapolis and Oklahoma City sought to remain in Southern California in part because of proximity to family. His mother, Paulette, suffered a stroke when George was in elementary school, and traveling to attend games across the country had proved challenging for her, George said during his podcast appearance.

“There was no other decision to be made, I knew this was where I wanted to be,” George said while announcing his extension. “At this point in my career, again, it is about leaving a legacy with an organization that I really wanted to be associated with.”

Last week, when George told reporters he hoped to retire as a Clipper, the team and his representation were well on their way to agreeing to the extension, according to people with knowledge of the deal.

The talks were straightforward: George trusted in the Clippers. The team, in turn, believed the best was yet to come for the 6-foot-8 forward, coming off a season in which he battled inconsistency and endured a roller-coaster postseason while playing on surgically repaired shoulders.

George averaged 21.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists last season while making 41% of his three-pointers. He has averaged 23.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.9 turnovers in his last five seasons since returning from his leg injury.

Asked whether his motivation for the upcoming season was rooted in criticism he received after combining with Leonard to score zero points in the fourth quarter of their Game 7 loss to Denver, he said he was focused on “exploding into the season.”

“It’s not even about proving people wrong or answering questions to people that don’t really have much value to my life,” he said. “It’s more so about me going out there and being reliable for my teammates, being reliable for this organization. That’s where my focus is. That’s where my mind-set is. If I keep it to that, if that is my mind-set on a nightly basis, every other question will be answered.”