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Column: Fasten your seat belts, the Clippers are joining the elite

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) handles the ball while Golden State Warriors guard Klay Th
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) handles the ball while Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson defends during the second half of Game 6 of the NBA Finals on June 13.
(Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

The Clippers beat the Lakers. The Clippers beat the Toronto Raptors. The Clippers beat the entire darn NBA and every expert who said they couldn’t do it.

The Clippers beat their history. The Clippers beat their shadows. The Clippers beat every basketball fan in their own town who never imagined in a million years they could do it.

Oh me, oh my, they did it.

On a transformative Friday night beyond even Clipper Darrell’s wildest dreams, the Clippers acquired arguably the best player in the NBA, traded for another player in the league’s elite, and have suddenly gone from a perennial afterthought to the spotlight of a potential NBA championship.

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Kawhi Leonard? Are you kidding me?

Paul George? Are you serious?

The Clippers as legitimate competitors in both basketball and buzz to a Lakers team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, is that real?

It is now. In a span of what seemed like 10 seconds, the two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP Leonard told the Clippers he would be signing there as a free agent just before the Clippers traded Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a slew of draft picks for Oklahoma City star George.

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Bingo!!!!

It turns out Leonard had pushed George to request a trade so they could play together on one of their hometown teams. That team is not named the Lakers, who have now officially lost out on both players, with the Leonard decision representing a serious indictment on the reputation of their dysfunctional front office. He wanted to return to his Riverside roots, just last year he requested a trade to the Lakers, he apparently was set on leaving Toronto … and he goes to the Clippers?

Hey, can we drop that eternal question mark from their name for once? Let’s everyone agree that for once, it’s the Clippers!

This is the most important franchise moment since the league stripped the team from Donald Sterling and sold it to Steve Ballmer. These are the most compelling player acquisitions in like, forever.

They’re suddenly not some gritty little team hoping to sneak into the playoffs on a Doc and a prayer. This is now a potential powerhouse with Leonard and George supported by Patrick Beverley and coached up by Doc Rivers and, well, aren’t they as good as anyone else in the West?

This is also the singular greatest triumph in franchise history, mostly because nobody thought they could pull it off. They had been chasing Leonard for a year, but once the Lakers entered the Kawhi Derby, nobody thought they had a chance. They were never mentioned in recent Leonard rumors. There was nothing coming out of the Clippers about their recruiting meeting. They had disappeared from all NBA chatter except for folks to say, “Same old Clippers.”

But these are not the same old Clippers. These Clippers were prepared for success. These Clippers were steeled against failure. These Clippers deserve every bit of what happened Friday night, because they’ve been working several years for this moment.

It was a victory for the league’s richest and most generous owner in Ballmer. It was a triumph for a front office that includes legendary Jerry West and smart Lawrence Frank. But perhaps more than anything, in the end , it was a win for Doc Rivers, who reportedly closed the deal in a meeting that he apparently furiously coached to completion.

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He won. The Clippers won. Did they ever.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke


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