Kawhi Leonard is a Los Angeles Clipper, and in a bit of a surprise twist, he brought an All-Star running mate with him. Prior to Leonard’s decision to head home getting announced, the Clippers pulled off a trade to acquire fellow SoCal native Paul George, too. Even by the most optimistic of projections, no one saw this sort of a haul for the team frequently viewed as the other inhabitants of Staples Center.
But something like this has wide-ranging effects, even for the teams that were not jostling to acquire Leonard’s services. While the Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors, and Oklahoma City Thunder were most obviously impacted by all of this, we identified three winners and losers in the aftermath of all of this.
With Kawhi Leonard and the four bounces from hell exiting stage left, there is room for a new King in the East. Enter the remade Philadelphia 76ers, who essentially traded Jimmy Butler for Al Horford and Josh Richardson earlier this week. In addition to his veteran leadership, Horford boasts the title as one of the best Giannis Antetokounmpo defenders in the NBA, a skill that will seemingly inevitably come in handy down the line. With the Sixers on what looks like a collision course with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference, adding Horford’s defense may prove to be an X-Factor.
Either way, the Sixers find themselves firmly in the East’s top tier alongside Milwaukee in what appears to be a two-team race for the 2019-20 season, sleeping giant Brooklyn waiting for 2021 to raise hell.
Even though the Sixers come out of the Kawhi decision smelling like roses, don’t discount last season’s one seed in the East. Milwaukee’s six-game playoff loss to Toronto is sure to leave a sour taste in the mouth of the NBA MVP. The Bucks are largely getting the band back together and, despite losing Malcolm Brogdon to Indiana, Wes Matthews appears to be a serviceable replacement at a steep discount. As Giannis continues to get better, the Bucks will enter the season as worthy favorites to triumph in the East next season.
Teams with remaining cap space
Even though the blockbuster Paul George trade took some money off Oklahoma City’s books for next season, the Thunder remain $11.5 million over the Luxury Tax line. With rumors swirling prior to the George trade that the team wanted to duck the tax this season, it’s hard to believe that owner Clay Bennett will be willing to fork over additional cash for a reboot of the 2016-17 squad.
Enter teams like the Atlanta Hawks (~$14 million) and the Dallas Mavericks (~$14.5 million), both of whom have retained significant cap space. Both teams look to be in prime position to extract an asset from the Thunder as they likely look to get under the tax this year. Perhaps one of those teams could be a willing partner in a three-team Russell Westbrook deal that would officially usher in the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander era in Oklahoma City.