The Los Angeles Clippers traded away a record-setting number of draft picks—five first-rounders and two pick swaps—to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Paul George. It was essentially a deal for two superstars since L.A. knew acquiring George would also mean signing Kawhi Leonard.

When free agency began, the Clippers were aware that they might need to acquire an All-Star in order to land a commitment from Leonard. George was not even on Los Angeles’ radar on July 1 as they contacted other teams about potential trades.

According to multiple reports, the Clippers pursued Bradley Beal, whom the Washington Wizards have not made available for trade. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that L.A. called the New Orleans Pelicans about Jrue Holiday, but the guard wasn’t available, either.

A new report in The Athletic detailing the Clippers’ pursuit of Leonard states that the organization even inquired with the Houston Rockets about a trade for James Harden. 

hardenn James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With four top-two MVP finishes in the last five seasons, Harden is likely untouchable. A Harden-Leonard pairing would probably be the NBA’s best, even head of what the Los Angeles Lakers have with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. 

After the Rockets were eliminated from the second round of the 2019 NBA playoffs, there were rumors that everyone on Houston’s roster, with the exception of Harden, was on the block. Houston failed to deal the likes of Clint Capela and Eric Gordon in a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. The Rockets eventually sent Chris Paul and a few draft picks to Oklahoma City for Russell Westbrook.

According to The Athletic, the Thunder explored the possibility of trading their superstars even before George spoke with Leonard about teaming up and asked to be dealt to the Clippers. A rival executive told The Athletic that Oklahoma City was willing to talk about the possibility of moving Westbrook before the NBA Draft.

Had George not expressed a desire to be in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City probably would have brought back their two All-Stars for a third season together. The Thunder have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in both seasons with Westbrook and George on the roster.

Just two years ago, Westbrook, Harden and Leonard finished in the top three in MVP voting. Harden and George were second and third, respectively, in this past season’s MVP race.

Leonard won the 2019 NBA Finals MVP award.