What Kawhi's decision means for the Lakers, Raptors, and Clippers

Jul 7, 2019
ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio

Hoops fans were left shaken on Saturday when it was reported that Kawhi Leonard would join the Los Angeles Clippers — and he'd team up with Paul George no less whom the LAC acquired via trade with Oklahoma City Thunder.

News of the two-time champion’s final choice broke out just moments before it was confirmed that the Oklahoma City Thunder would get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two pick swaps for the relocating George. Meanwhile, Leonard would sign a four-year, $142-million max contract.

NBA players were left stunned by the league-altering move:

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The basketball world has been waiting for Leonard to pick a team. Fresh off a title with the Toronto Raptors, the two-time Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year entered free agency with the power to choose where he wants to play for the first time in his career. The Klaw comes home to California, although not as a part of the more popular team there.

Leonard’s move to the Clippers supposedly restores the balance in the NBA a la Thanos' infamous snap, but it actually has bigger implications for the rest of the league, particularly the frontrunners in the much-dissected Kawhi sweepstakes. Where do the Lakers, Clippers, Raptors, and the other teams go from here?

What it means for the Lakers

Don't expect to LeBron James and Anthony Davis to sit in a corner and cry after missing out on Leonard. Believe it or not, this could be a good thing for the Purple and Gold. The max cap space (around $32 million) allows the team to surround the superstar pairing with a solid supporting cast, rather than a bunch of scrubs.

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And they quickly moved on doing exactly that. Danny Green just announced that he would sign a two-year, $30-million deal with the Lakers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would also return on a two-year $16-million deal. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, meanwhile, tweeted late Saturday afternoon that JaVale McGee has also accepted a two-year $8.2-million deal to be with Lebron and Co.

Two more key additions were DeMarcus Cousins, who agreed to a $3.5-million, one-year deal and Rajon Rondo, who accepted a two-year deal that'll pay him $2.6 million in 2019-20 with a player option for the second year.

Don’t get us wrong: Los Angeles still belongs to the Lakers with their 16 World Championships. Landing Leonard and George, though, gives the Clippers a sense of legitimacy that the ex-Lob City lacked in years past and closes the gap between them and their glitzy crosstown rival.

Now that the Battle of Los Angeles is finally on, load-managing LeBron in his 17th season is likely out of the question. And you can bet the Lakers will make a stand now with the competitive team they've got.

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What it means for the Raptors

No hard feelings for the Raptors, who are still the reigning champions even with Leonard's departure. Team president Masai Ujiri put the franchise in the best position to adapt, regardless of what Kawhi would do. With Leonard back in the West, Toronto will remain in the thick of the fight in the wide-open East against the reloaded Sixers and Bucks, not to mention the new-look Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.

Coach Nick Nurse, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka can still run it back and defend their title, alongside whoever fills the void left by Leonard and Green. If the Raptors choose to blow it up, they will still have the foundational pieces for a rebuild in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby. They can then flip their veterans to aspiring contenders that need championship experience for more assets and young talent. That's the beauty of Ujiri's deft wheeling and dealing. This flexibility allows them to stay in the hunt for a Playoff berth at the very least.

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What it means for the Clippers

Give it up for Jerry West, everyone. The organization has been on a roll since naming the Laker legend executive board member and special consultant. After decades of being the whipping boys of Los Angeles, the Clippers are now poised to steal the spotlight from their Hollywood counterparts. It’s scary to think that they just pushed the Warriors with Kevin Durant in last season's playoffs, and are now adding healthy versions of Leonard and George to an ultra-hardworking crew.

Good luck scoring against the inside-outside combo of Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, while Kawhi and PG patrol the wings. The two MVP-caliber forwards also gave the team a massive upgrade on the other end of the floor, sharing the scoring load with Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and Landry Shamet. The future is indeed now for these reloaded Clippers — and everyone should be excited about how crazy good they can be.

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What it means for the rest of the NBA

Russell Westbrook must be shaking his head right now. Is he about to average a 50-point triple-double and not make the playoffs next season, or get shipped to a desperate team like the New York Knicks or the Phoenix Suns? Which opponent will be the best Christmas Day matchup for the Clippers: Lakers, Raptors, Thunder, or Spurs? Who will reign supreme in the five-cornered hostilities that feature Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo-Khris Middleton vs. Kemba Walker-Jayson Tatum vs. Spicy P-Kyle Lowry vs Kyrie Irving and the Nets to rule the East?

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ILLUSTRATION: Echo Antonio
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