It happened. At 2 am. Kawhi Leonard is now an official member of the Los Angeles Clippers. But wait, there’s more! Multiple sources have announced that the Oklahoma City Thunder are trading MVP-candidate Paul George to the Clippers for a package including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and multiple future 1-st round draft picks. A lot happened while most of us were sleeping last night.
If you’ve spoken to me about basketball over the past few months, you knew that I’ve been telling everyone that the Clippers were getting at least one superstar this summer. There was so much evidence, and I’ll explain why this deal happened.
The Los Angeles Clippers were in a seemingly bad spot a few years ago. They couldn’t get over the hump with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, so they traded Paul to the Rockets for younger talent and draft picks. It made sense, but the more surprising move was trading Blake Griffin to the Pistons just months after signing a huge $173 million extension. At this point, the Clippers’ best players were probably Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari. They were hardly a team people saw getting into the playoffs in the West.
The Clippers were surprisingly good last season, but it was obvious that they were making a play for free agency. This became strikingly clear when they traded Tobias Harris (among others) to the 76ers for Landry Shamet and future first-round picks. The Clippers traded their best player (Gallinari was having a fantastic season too) for a shooter in Shamet and future first-round picks. I thought they would fall out of the playoff race. I was wrong. The Clippers eventually lost in 6 games to the Warriors in the first round in what would be one of the more entertaining series of the playoffs.
It was then clear to me what was about to happen. I’ve been telling people since January that I had a feeling something huge was brewing with the Clippers. There was too much evidence for it not to be. Let’s start up top. The Clippers hired Warriors’ architect and NBA logo Jerry West for an executive position. I think a lot of people overlooked this. West built the Lakers dynasties in the ’80s, the Warriors in the 2010s and now the Los Angeles Clippers. Many people call Jerry West the best executive in NBA history, and I think it’s completely warranted. You look at this man’s body of work and it’s hard to not think he’s the GOAT of the NBA front office. The respect among the Clippers doesn’t end with Jerry West.
Doc Rivers is an extremely well-regarded coach among the NBA. Players tend to like playing under him, and the guy almost always brings the absolute best out of his players. I mean, this season he took a team that most people expected nothing of, and got them to the Playoffs. He’s a really good coach, and it felt like he was the guy to lead a new superteam in LA.
The third thing that set the Clippers up for this was the talent and draft picks that they’re acquired over the past few years. They had two first-round picks for next year, and 3 for 2021 (both before the Paul George trade). They took quality players in the draft, and over the span of a few years, became a really solid organization. They have a great owner who’s passionate about his team and willing to pay whatever it takes to win. The Clippers had set themselves up tremendously for this moment, topping it all off with having two max free-agent slots for this summer. If you want to look at an example of how to construct your NBA team for the future, it’s hard to find a model that worked better than the Clippers.
This moment in NBA history is important not only to the LA Clippers but to 3 other teams particularly. The Lakers just missed out on a player that would most certainly bring them a title next year. Leonard, James, and Davis would be an unstoppable trio that would just walk their way into a championship. It would have been even worse than when KD joined the Warriors. Like, by a lot. I’m so happy that Leonard didn’t sign with the Lakers simply due to my love of the game. I wanted the NBA to be wide open this year, and Leonard on the Lakers wouldn’t allow that. Instead, he chose the other team in the Staples Center. It feels so great because Leonard embodies what us NBA fans all want. He defeated two different dynasties in the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors. He now helped to defeat a future dynasty in the Clippers.
The other team you have to talk about here is the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’m sure they didn’t see this night coming. Paul George sent out a tweet saying he won’t tolerate any Westbrook slander, but that name is going to be an important word within NBA circles for the next few days. This moment is eerily similar to when Kevin Durant left in 2016. It happened quickly, and Russ was left to be there alone. It’s hard to see a future where Russell Westbrook is on this team. He’s going to be making $47 million a season at the end of his current contract. I don’t see a way OKC doesn’t either find a way to get Westbrook another star player (nearly impossible), or trade him away and start a complete rebuild.
This moment is going to change the NBA. Kawhi Leonard just became the first Finals MVP to ever change teams after winning such an accomplishment. The Raptors will no longer be a threat in the East, and that conference is going to be really flat next year. The Bucks and 76ers are the only quality teams in that conference (Indiana when Oladipo returns), and the west is going to be absolutely stacked. If you asked me right now, this is how I’d assume the standings will be at the end of next year:
Writing that and putting the Nuggets first felt weird, mainly because the Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, and Jazz are all pretty equal in my opinion. I can see all 4 of those teams winning the NBA title next year, and even the bottom of the playoffs can be exciting. We might see the Pelicans actually make some noise in the NBA next season. They got dramatically better this summer even with trading their best player, something you seldom see ever happen. I think the Kings should be expected to make the Playoffs this year too. They’re going to take another leap, and I expect both those teams to be better than the teams who were in those spots last year (Thunder and Spurs) and take their places.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining the Los Angeles Clippers is an enormous win for the NBA. He’s going to one of the biggest markets in the world without making a superteam with LeBron James. This will be the most open the NBA has been in five years. The Warriors dynasty is over (for now), and there are a number of teams with a good chance to actually win the title next year. The Clippers, like Leonard’s last team in Toronto, but everything on the line for him. He rewarded their patience, and the NBA just completely changed because of it.