76ers frontrunners to land George, sources say

The Philadelphia 76ers are strong frontrunner to land Paul George on a free agent deal, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Sunday, after George informed the Clippers that he will be signing with another team.

George’s agent, Aaron Mintz of CAA, had a conversation with LA Clippers president Lawrence Frank on Sunday night that resulted in no new movement on a deal. The Clippers then said in a statement on Sunday evening that George has decided to move on.

The Sixers contingent is set to meet with George in California later Sunday night, sources told Wojnarowski.

“Paul has informed us that he is signing his next contract with another team,” the Clippers said in a statement. “Paul is a tremendous talent and an elite two-way player. We feel fortunate for the five years we spent with him. Over that span, he went to three All-Star Games, made the most 3-pointers in franchise history and helped lead the team to a place it had never been. His performances in Games 5 and 6 against Utah in 2021 won’t be forgotten by anyone associated with the Clippers.

“We traded a lot to pair Paul and Kawhi [Leonard], and in exchange, we had five seasons of contention. Even though we fell short of our ultimate objective, we appreciate the chances we had with Paul.”

George’s decision to move on comes after what the Clippers described as a “significant” gap in contract negotiations. George was eligible to sign an extension up to four years and $221 million during the season.

After the Clippers and Leonard agreed to a three-year, $150-million extension in January, George was optimistic that he would have his own extension soon as well. But the two sides were far apart.

George is eligible to sign a four-year, $212-million contact with teams that have cap space.

The Clippers — who have agreed to a two-year, $70-million deal with free agent point guard James Harden, sources told ESPN — said they explored a trade that would have required George to opt in to his $48.8 million player option prior to Saturday’s deadline.

But the organization has taken a careful and measured approach to roster construction with the new collective bargaining agreement being so punitive for tax-paying teams like the Clippers.

“Heading into this offseason, our roster was constructed [with] three great players 33 and over, two of whom could become free agents,” the Clippers said in the statement. “We wanted to retain them on contracts that would allow us, under the constraints of the new CBA, to continue building the team.

“We negotiated for months with Paul and his representative on a contract that would make sense for both sides, and we were left far apart. The gap was significant. We understand and respect Paul’s decision to look elsewhere for his next contract. We explored an opt-in and trade scenario, but it would have left us in a similar position under the new CBA, with very little asset value to justify the restrictions.”

George’s departure brings the Leonard-George era to a disappointing end. During the summer of 2019, the Clippers celebrated perhaps their biggest moment in franchise history when Leonard chose to sign with the team as a free agent and then the Clippers struck a blockbuster trade to land George.

The Clippers had to surrender a massive haul to acquire the All-Star wing, sending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, unprotected 2022, 2024, 2026 first-round picks, first-round rights swaps in 2023 and 2025 and unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami to Oklahoma City.

The Leonard and George duo brought immense title expectations but persistent injuries kept the pair from reaching the NBA Finals. The Clippers have one Western Conference Finals appearance in 2021 to show for the last five years. The last two postseasons have ended first-round exits. George was injured and did not play and Leonard was injured after two games in a five-game loss to Phoenix in 2023. And this past postseason, Leonard missed the last three games of a six-game loss to Dallas in the first round.

Without George, the Clippers are proceeding into free agency armed with a $12.9 million mid-level exception and a $4.7 million bi-annual exception available.

But it will be incredibly difficult for the Clippers to replace George, a nine-time All-Star who averaged 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season while shooting career highs of 47.1% from the field, 41.3% from 3-point range and 90.7% from the free throw line. The Clippers say they now have flexibility under the new CBA and will explore opportunities to remain a playoff team with Leonard and Harden as they move into the new Intuit Dome.

“We will miss Paul,” the team said. “At the same time, we’re excited by the opportunities we’ve now been afforded, including greater flexibility under the new CBA. Kawhi is an all-NBA player and we believe T-Lue [Ty Lue] is the best coach in the league. We will field a highly competitive team this season, and moving forward, use our organizational advantages to bring top talent to Intuit Dome.”

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