The NBA off-season had started with a bang with the Lakers and Pelicans finally agreeing to a trade of Anthony Davis. The moves after (Durant and Kyrie to the Nets, Walker to the Celtics, etc.) had also great significance. But the last major domino fell last night as the prized free agent of this summer, Kawhi Leonard, agreed to sign with the Clippers.
And for an added bonus, the Clippers went out and got Paul George which stunned nearly everyone. The Clippers sent Shai Gilegous-Alexander (10.8 PPG, 3.3 APG), Danilo Gallinari (19.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG), and a bevvy of draft picks which are unprotected (Miami’s 2021, Clippers 2022, 2024, and 2026) and one more (Miami’s 2023 first rounder).
Wow is all I can say.
Leonard’s year has been one of intrigue as his demand to his old team, the Spurs was to trade him to Los Angeles, notably the Lakers. However, given the issues the Spurs and Leonard had with each other, that didn’t happen (and San Antonio didn’t want to trade them to their historic rival) so he was shipped to the Raptors. Leonard didn’t whine about the move to Toronto and took Toronto over the top for their first NBA Championship. Leonard also re-established himself as one of the best all-around players in the game if not the best all-around player.
Instead of joining LeBron, Leonard opted to join the Clippers. And will have Paul George with him, which I think George will be in a better situation with Leonard than Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City.
So let’s look at some takes.
Clippers have to be the favorites in the Western Conference. Despite the moves, the Clippers still have depth (Beverly, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, etc.) which along with Leonard and George, will make that team unbelievably strong. With the Warriors losing Durant and going to miss Klay Thompson for a while next season and the Lakers not having a whole lot of major depth to this point, the Clippers have to be considered the favorites.
The Raptors will still be a threat in the East but…. Toronto was surprisingly deep last year with Leonard and still have Kyle Lowry (assuming he doesn’t get traded himself). However, you have to figure Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee are banging down on the door (and honestly, the Sixers and Bucks are better than Toronto especially without Kawhi). But Toronto could still make a move or two to improve their squad now with out Leonard there. But I wouldn’t expect a repeat to the NBA Finals if I am a Raptors fan barring a major trade for another superstar.
The Lakers issues were too much I think for Leonard to sign, even with LeBron and Davis there. It seemed like the Lakers issues were really exposed at the end of the season when Magic Johnson left and of course running gags about how LeBron is the real GM of the team anyway. Leonard I think did his homework with the Lakers (because if he really wanted to go to the Lakers, he would have) which is why he wanted to talk to Magic. It also speaks volumes to me if LeBron can’t bring in a big star to team with now (honestly, I think franchise players like Leonard would prefer to be on their own squad than team with the franchise player in LeBron at this point-and think about it: Durant, Irving, and now Leonard whom all have been linked to the Lakers, are elsewhere). I also believe the Lakers are NOT NBA championship contenders given the moves made this year and really gutting the depth they had.
Russell Westbrook may be the next big star on the move. Seems like rumors of a mega-deal being made by the Raptors (once they found out Leonard wouldn’t return) and Thunder of Westbrook/George on the move are high, which means probably the end of Westbrook’s tenure in Oklahoma City. Toronto would really benefit from getting Westbrook as he would have the depth he could be around that lacked somewhat in Oklahoma City. The Raptors hit a home run with Leonard there last year and many thought it wouldn’t work. Why wouldn’t they do it again? Let’s face it, the Thunder aren’t going anywhere and since Durant has left, Oklahoma City have been first round casualties every year so they need to just start over anyway.
The NBA may be interesting and for the first time in a good while, pretty wide open. For the last 4-5 years we have pretty much sensed what the end result was: Golden State vs. LeBron and the Cavs. Last year the dynamic changed more with LeBron out of Cleveland and the East being wide open with Milwaukee, Toronto, and Philadelphia. Now, the moves made makes the East wider (Boston) and the west is going to be interesting with the Warriors down a bit (still have to be considered a favorite though) and then you have some teams that could make things exciting with the youth pushes (New Orleans, Atlanta). So the NBA will be fun to see in 2019-2020.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat