Winners and losers from Kawhi Leonard's decision to join Clippers
Kawhi Leonard has officially made his free-agent decision. The reigning NBA Finals MVP has elected to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers for a four-year max contract worth $142 million. But that wasn't the only big NBA news of the night. Paul George will be Leonard's teammate after the Clippers acquired him in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was a stunning and unexpected development, but now the Clippers appear to be a legitimate contender.
Leonard was the last big free-agent domino to fall, and now, the next tier of guys wait to be scooped up. Leonard's choice will have a major ripple effect on the NBA -- especially in the wake of George's acquisition. Here's a look at the winners and losers of Leonard's decision.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers pulled off the unlikely deal. They convinced Leonard not to form a superteam with the Lakers and got him to leave a reigning NBA champion to play for their them. Even more unexpectedly, they were able to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder to serve as a second star with Leonard. And while they gave up some young talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a treasure trove of first-round draft picks to make that move, the Doc Rivers-coached Clips still have solid depth and some good young players. They're now a true title contender in the West and shrewd moves to create cap space for star players has paid off.
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Loser: Toronto Raptors
Without Leonard, the Raptors are left with the 33-year-old Kyle Lowry, 34-year-old Marc Gasol, and rising star Pascal Siakam to take their team back to the Finals. Toronto still likely a playoff team, but the Raptors' aspirations to repeat as champions took a hit. Getting the title certainly made the Leonard deal worthwhile, but only having him for one year certainly will sting a bit.
Winner: Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is the biggest winner of his own free agency. He won a title with the Raptors and then got a chance to make the decision that best suited him. He took his time and clearly, he thinks he has set himself up best for long-term success both on the court and financially (four-year deal for $142 million) with the Clippers. His patience in the decision-making process should pay off.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
So, the Los Angeles Lakers traded away several young bench players, including former first-round pick Moritz Wagner all to... sign Danny Green, JaVale McGee, Troy Daniels and Jared Dudley? That's what their cap space is amounting to in the wake of Leonard's decision. The Lakers are still a big-time contender thanks to the presence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but missing out on a third star and waiting to pick up other contributors in free agency certainly makes the Lakers a big loser here. And losing on the Kawhi sweepstakes to their across-the-hall rival certainly can't feel too good, either.
Winner: The NBA
The NBA has to be happy that Leonard stayed away from the Lakers but still chose to go to L.A. The 2019-20 season is setting up to be one of the most wide-open seasons in NBA history, as numerous stars have changed teams while the Golden State Warriors are no longer a surefire bet to make the Finals. Now, the Clippers can be added to the mix as a true title contender. Parity will exist in the league and while there are a couple of dynamic star duos, there isn't a ridiculous superteam like the one the Lakers could've formed.
Loser: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder unexpectedly emerged as losers from this move. Nobody expected Paul George to be moved this offseason, especially after re-upping with Oklahoma City on a max deal the previous year. But apparently, he requested a trade after Leonard recruited him to join the Clippers. And the Thunder had no choice but to deal him. Getting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a massive haul of future draft assets, and the expiring contract of Danilo Gallinari is a solid haul, but it will be very hard for the capped-out team to make noise in the crowded West as currently constituted. As a result, they may become sellers and could need to retool.
Winner: Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers
Leonard's departure should establish a clear-cut top two in Eastern Conference with the Bucks and the 76ers. There are some other teams in the East that could make some noise -- including the Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics -- but the Bucks and Sixers will now have one less superstar to get through as they battle to reach the NBA Finals. And considering that the Raptors knocked out both teams last season, they have to be happy that they won't see Leonard until a potential battle in the Finals.
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Loser: New York Knicks
I hate to pile onto the Knicks here, but they had big plans in free agency, hoping to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to turn around their franchise. Instead, both of those players went to neighboring Brooklyn. But the Knicks apparently still had a chance to meet with Leonard but reportedly turned it down due to "logistics." Maybe landing Leonard would have been a long-shot, but in a summer where the Knicks desperately needed to make a big splash, turning down a meeting with Leonard doesn't seem like a good idea even if it meant missing out on some of their other free-agent targets. Instead, they settled on Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, and Wayne Ellington as their main acquisitions.
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Winner: Boston Celtics
The Celtics benefit from Leonard's decision in two ways. First of all, Leonard won't be in the Eastern Conference anymore, so that should help them remain competitive in the East despite losing Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Second, it vindicates them a bit for their decision not to trade for Leonard. Had the Celtics made a Jaylen Brown-centered offer to the Spurs to get Leonard and added him before last season, there's no guarantee they would have won a title. And had Leonard left after one title-less season, that would make the move a bust for the C's. So, despite missing on Leonard, the team kept their young core together, which may have been the best move in the long run.