The world was stunned over the weekend as Kawhi Leonard pulled off the biggest surprise in NBA free agency of 2019-20. In a lightning-fast sequence of events, dominoes fell.
The Los Angeles Clippers traded for Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George, sending Italian forward Danilo Gallinari and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander and a basket load of future draft picks. Kawhi Leonard, at the same time, also announces that he will be signing a four-year deal with the Clippers worth $142 million. And that was that. The Lakers and Raptors were left the cold and without a superstar signee.
Suddenly, overnight, the Clippers, the once lowly never-playoff-bound team of Los Angeles, became the betting favorites to win the 2019-20 NBA championship. How could they not? Paul George, a 2019 MVP finalist, along with Kawhi represent two of the best two-way players in the world right now. Supported by reigning Sixth-Man-of-the-Year Lou Williams and hard-nosed defensive stopper Patrick Beverley, the duo are expected to cause multiple headaches for teams all over the league.
Leonard’s decision also tips the balance, or more accurately, already-imbalanced power in the NBA towards the West. The Raptors, who were instantly gutted by Leonard’s departure also saw Danny Green quickly sign with the Lakers. Now they’re left with Kyle Lowry, an aging Marc Gasol and a glimmer of a bright future in Pascal Siakam – not enough for a legitimate run at the Eastern Conference crown. The setback is real and the Toronto franchise will need to get creative in order to return to title-contending form.
With the Raptors sliding downward in the Eastern Conference projections, the Bucks, Celtics ans Sixers rise as early favorites. Now, the West just became a lot more competitive.
The Lakers reacted quickly to the news. They signed the aforementioned Green, re-signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee. Soon after, Anthony Davis was able to recruit his former teammate DeMarcus Cousins to sign a one-year show-me deal with the Lakers. Despite not having Kawhi, the Lakers are not to be underestimated and are considered to be a top-4 team in the West, if not the entire NBA.