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Paul George signs with 76ers in biggest NBA free agency move

Paul George signs with 76ers in biggest NBA free agency move

LOS ANGELES — Five years after the Los Angeles Clippers paired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during a blockbuster summer, the superstar duo is gone without a single NBA Finals appearance.

The Philadelphia 76ers agreed to sign George, a nine-time All-Star, to a four-year contract worth up to $212 million early Monday morning, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed. The deal includes a player option for the final season, according to ESPN, which first reported the terms.

George, 34, averaged 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, but the Clippers’ campaign stalled with a first-round loss to the Dallas Mavericks. In the playoffs, George averaged 19.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, as Leonard missed much of the series due to a knee injury.

In Philadelphia, George will team with 2023 MVP Joel Embiid and 2024 most improved player Tyrese Maxey to form an explosive core trio. Philadelphia, which traded James Harden to the Clippers last fall, let forward Tobias Harris leave in free agency and worked diligently to create the cap space needed to land George.

This move comes with real risks: George has only played at least 60 games once in the past five seasons, and his offensive game has shifted to the perimeter as he has moved into his 30s. Although he helped the Clippers to the Western Conference finals in 2021, he has not advanced past the first round in the past three seasons and missed the 2023 playoffs due to a knee injury.

Of course, Philadelphia is still under a lot of pressure to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in Embiid’s career. The 76ers lost in the first round to the New York Knicks last season, after reaching the conference semifinals in five of the previous six seasons. In addition to George, the 76ers agreed to sign veterans Andre Drummond and Eric Gordon and Kelly Oubre Jr. to be re-signed on the opening day of free agency on Sunday.

The Clippers had hoped to enter their sparkling new arena — the Intuit Dome in Inglewood, Calif. — with four decorated Southern California natives in Leonard, George, Harden and Russell Westbrook. Instead, they will pair Leonard, who signed a three-year, $153 million contract extension in January, with Harden, who agreed to a two-year, $70 million contract on Sunday, with George leaving and Westbrook on the trading block.

The Clippers acquired George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019 for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, five first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps. Gilgeous-Alexander was this year’s MVP runner-up.

“Paul has informed us that he will sign his next contract with another team,” the Clippers said in a statement on Sunday. “Paul is a tremendous talent and an elite two-way player. We feel privileged to have spent the five years with him. … We traded a lot to pair Paul and Kawhi, and in return we had five seasons of struggle. Even though we didn’t reach our ultimate goal, we appreciate the opportunities we had with Paul.”

Despite having the NBA’s wealthiest owner in billionaire former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer, the Clippers were unwilling to offer George a four-year contract that would have carried him through his 37th season. Clippers general manager Lawrence Frank suggested that the NBA’s new salary cap rules, which include stiff financial penalties and restrictions on the league’s highest-spending teams, could impact the direction of the team and George’s decision on the free agency market.

“We spent months negotiating with Paul and his representative to find a contract that would make sense for both parties, and we stayed far apart,” the Clippers said. “The gap was significant.”