Presented By montepoole

So, Kawhi Leonard is choosing to go where the smart money pointed all along. Back to Southern California, not to the Lakers but to the anti-Lakers.

The Clippers.

And he’s bringing a high-impact sidekick named Paul George.

With Kawhi and PG sharing LA with Lakers stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis -- two pair of top-10 players throwing thunder at each other -- the Warriors’ decision to start their start their youth movement this summer looks even smarter than it did last week.

The Western Conference is more treacherous than at any time since the Warriors climbed to prominence in 2015. Even if the Warriors opened with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both on the roster and healthy, their chances to reach a sixth consecutive Finals would be, um, dim.

The Clippers gave the Warriors fits in first round of the playoffs in April, and that was with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell doing most of the damage. Add Kawhi and PG and, suddenly, the team coached by Doc Rivers and influenced by Jerry West, is a favorite to win it all.

The Lakers, who were on a postseason trajectory before LeBron went down in the Christmas Day game against the Warriors, lost out on Kawhi, but the addition Davis gives them, at least for the next season or two, enough star power to be taken seriously as a title contender.

And they still have cap space.


The Jazz reloaded with a level of aggression unprecedented for that generally conservative franchise, adding terrific point guard Mike Conley, forward Bojan Bogdanovic -- arguably one of the five best shooters in the NBA -- and rebounding savage Ed Davis.

The Trail Blazers, the No. 3 seed in 2019, also got better. If enigmatic center Hassan Whiteside follows the lead of Damian Lillard, Portland will have two beasts in the paint when Jusuf Nurkic returns. The Blazers also added a defensive-minded wing in Kent Bazemore and a bomber off the bench in Anthony Tolliver.

The Nuggets didn’t do much, but they didn’t have to. They have one of the youngest rosters in the league and made an impressive postseason run before their inexperience undid them. They may not have a better record, but they should be a more dangerous postseason squad.

The Pelicans aren’t ready to make a title run, but they will be a problem. In moving AD, they acquired two Lakers starters: Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. They traded for power forward/center Derrick Favors. They added veteran sharpshooter add JJ Redick in free agency.

Oh, and New Orleans also has in Zion Williamson the most heralded rookie since LeBron.

The 2018-19 season was one in which the Western Conference was deeper than the Eastern Conference but also had fewer frightening teams. With Leonard returning to the West, a balance of power shifts slightly.

At least four teams in the East will be serious, though the defending champion Raptors likely will fall to No. 4 -- maybe lower if the Nets come along quickly. The 76ers, Bucks and Celtics already have their credibility. They’re known commodities.

Suddenly, after five seasons in which the Warriors were expected to reach The Finals and probably win it, the NBA has a logjam at the top.

No fewer than five teams, and maybe as many as eight, will believe they have the goods to end their season with a parade in June. The Warriors will not, following reason, be among them.

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It’s a new day in the NBA, and the league is about to become more intriguing than it has been in nearly a decade, since LeBron took his talents to South Beach.

Commissioner Adam Silver is dancing to the music in the NBA’s New York office. This free agency summer has been great for the league, if not so great for the Warriors.