In the middle of the night on July 6th, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Kawhi Leonard would be signing in Los Angeles. Not for the Los Angeles Lakers like many thought, but the Los Angeles Clippers. This enough was a shock to NBA fans, but just minutes later, news broke that All-NBA forward Paul George was also heading to the Clippers via trade.
The Clippers went from a promising free agent destination to NBA finals favorites in the span of five minutes. With his decision, Leonard brought balance to the NBA world for the first time in a long time.
How Kawhi Leonard Brought Balance to the NBA
Why Kawhi Leonard Made the Right Choice
By choosing the Clippers, Leonard showed the world he is not going to take the easy route. If he went to the Lakers, he would likely have made one of the most dominant trios in NBA history. LeBron James, Leonard, and Anthony Davis by themselves give coaches nightmares. All three together would cause nightmares across the NBA.
Had Leonard gone back to the Toronto Raptors, it would not be on the same scale of domination as the Lakers, but still wouldn’t be the hardest route to take. The Raptors are coming off an NBA championship, have a solid nucleus of Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol, and would likely be favorites to win the eastern conference again.
But Leonard didn’t do either of those. He chose what many thought to be the least likely out of the three favorites and brought George along in the process. Leonard told the Clippers to get George, and if they did, he would sign. Jerry West and company delivered, and now the “Battle of Los Angeles” begins.
The Clippers were a 48-win team a season ago and took a fully healthy Golden State Warriors team to six games in the first round of the playoffs. Now, they’ve added two superstars to the roster.
Their starting lineup will now have three All-Defensive players in George, Leonard, and Patrick Beverley. They re-signed JaMychal Green, another defensive monster, and have Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Landry Shamet coming off the bench. Leonard chose a team that had potential to make noise in the playoffs before he came, and made them bonafide contenders.
Kawhi Leonard Made the NBA Wide Open
The NBA used to be a three-star league. James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love teamed up on the Cleveland Cavaliers for three years. There was Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden on the Oklahoma City Thunder and then Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson dominated on the Warriors. James also had Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat in the early 2010s. Leonard changed that standard. He made the NBA a two-star league.
There’s Leonard and George along with James and Davis in Los Angeles. Curry and Thompson are occupying Golden State with Durant gone, who teamed up with Irving with the Brooklyn Nets. Donovan Mitchell got a star in Mike Conely this offseason for the Utah Jazz. The Denver Nuggets have All-Star Nikola Jokic and budding All-Star Jamal Murray. The Houston Rockets have James Harden and Chris Paul, and the Portland Trail Blazers have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The Philadelphia 76ers have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
All the top contenders have two stars with a good supporting cast. Even though the Clippers and Lakers are both thought of as the top two Finals favorites, there are a lot of teams with chances to overthrow them.
In the last few seasons, there hasn’t been this much parity in the league. Before the Raptors won the championship, the Golden State Warriors dominated the league for five years, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets being their only true challengers. Now with Thompson out until at least February, the Warriors are at a major disadvantage, and other teams have their best chance to win a championship in six years. Leonard nearly single-handedly shifted the NBA from top-heavy to almost completely balanced.
What It All Means
This free agency period has been one of the greatest in NBA history. The number of All-Star caliber players who left their teams was staggering. The shift in power was one like we have not seen before. With most of those players signing four- or five-year deals, the NBA could be wide open for years. With Leonard moving to the West and bringing George with him to the Clippers, the NBA has more legitimate contenders than they’ve had in years.
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