On a night that appeared to be historic because of an earthquake that occurred during Zion Williamson’s first Summer League game, a different kind of seismic shift occurred several hours later when the Clippers became arguably the best team in the league. The Los Angeles Clippers won the race to get Kawhi Leonard’s signature, convincing the free agent forward to join their team on a four-year max contract. But in an added twist, Leonard wasn’t the only All-Star the Clippers got, as trading for Paul George was a prerequisite to landing the reigning NBA Finals MVP.
Additionally, it came at the expense of two other teams that believed their championship hopes would increase to the nth degree by securing his signature: Leonard’s now-former team and reigning champs, the Toronto Raptors, and the Clippers’ fellow Staples Center tenants, the Los Angeles Lakers.
The power Leonard possesses to swing a title race was cemented last season and is something that we only see out of the league’s premier superstars like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Leonard now belongs in that tier, and it’s why three basketball teams did everything they could to acquire his services. In the end, it was the Clippers that managed to pull off the improbable, and as the summer now settles into a true offseason, it begs the question: Where do all three of these teams go from here? They all find themselves at radically different points due to Leonard’s decision, and as such, we decided to look at all of them now that the dust has begin to settle.
In case you didn’t know, getting Kawhi Leonard would have been exponentially better than not getting Kawhi Leonard. The Lakers, perhaps more than any other team in the NBA, understand that accruing as much talent as possible and figuring the rest out later is generally a good idea. They did that when they got Anthony Davis, and while hitting 50 percent of your shots is pretty good, people are inclined to remember the more recent miss over the earlier make.
Getting Leonard would have brought on obvious questions in terms of fit alongside Davis and LeBron James, but the Lakers correctly deduced that putting those three together would have been unprecedented, the first time in league history that three top-5 players — not to mention two guys who have a case for being the best player in the world — would wear the same uniform. Through that lens, this is a gigantic loss.
The silver lining in all of this is that it does require Los Angeles to spend the money that would have been allocated to Leonard towards building out a roster. The joke was that the Lakers were going to get Leonard, then due to its financial situation, dole out minimum deals to James’ friends. Perhaps the team still does that — there is still a need for some more shooting, and Kyle Korver is available and J.R. Smith will likely join him in a few weeks — but bolstering the frontcourt with JaVale McGee and DeMarcus Cousins and getting a pair of honest-to-god NBA wings in Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on board is a good start to using up their cap space, even if they got a bit more than some expected them to get on the market.
In the backcourt, Los Angeles brought back Rajon Rondo, who, while still an elite passer, has serious fit questions, and Alex Caruso. They also signed Quinn Cook, a capable backup point guard who will give them shooting off the bench, and Avery Bradley, who has struggled in recent seasons, but that’s not exactly the best point guard depth chart on earth. It is very possible that the team’s best five-man group involves all of them sitting on the bench, and the Lakers seem to agree as they’re likely to have LeBron as their starting point guard.