Breaking Down Kawhi Leonard And Paul George Heading To The Los Angeles Clippers
Breaking Down Kawhi Leonard And Paul George Heading To The Los Angeles Clippers
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days, reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and two-way star Paul George are headed to the Staples Center as the Clippers sent the NBA universe into meltdown.
As always, let’s break down this dynamic duo, and what we have to consider moving forward.
1. THE BEST TRUE WING DUO SINCE LEBRON JAMES AND DWYANE WADE?
Dwyane Wade was technically a shooting guard, but during the backend of his prime in a Miami Heat jersey, Wade and LeBron James formed the most devastating wing combination since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen during the Chicago Bulls glory days. Now, The Clippers have a chance to field potentially the best wing duo since that Heat pairing, with two of the best two-way stars the league has to offer wearing the same jersey. In a league dominated by wings, they have a reigning Finals MVP and a top 3 MVP performer from last season in the same locker room. The Clippers have struck gold with the ability to field both Leonard and George on the perimeter who will terrorize the rest of the league.
2. BEST DEFENSIVE STARTING LINEUP IN THE LEAGUE
The Los Angeles Clippers will now have without doubt the best defensive starting lineup in the association. With a projected starting lineup of Pat Beverley, Landry Shamet, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Montrezl Harrell, this starting five has four all NBA level defenders in it excluding Shamet. In a league that puts so much emphasis on scoring, fielding such a potent defensive lineup is rare, but without even dribbling a basketball together, the Clippers own some of the best defenders in the entire league at their position individually. The acquisition of Leonard alone would have made them even greater defensively, but when you add George to the mix, the defensive potential of this team is extraordinary.
3. DOC RIVERS HAS TO COACH TALENT
An underrated aspect of this deal is the spotlight that will now be on Clippers head coach Doc Rivers to produce for the franchise. I say spotlight because Rivers has had his well-documented struggles with coaching talented rosters in the past. Rivers yielded just one championship with the legendary roster in Boston in 2008, and often experiencing a power struggle during his time with that group.
More recently, Rivers could also not get it done with a roster that included Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Reddick, Deandre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. Yes injuries played a part, however the Clippers were never in the best two teams in the Conference and never made it past the second round despite being arguably the most talented team. Moreover, their playing style was alarmingly robotic and uninventive, causing fans and analysts alike to question various aspects about the team.
Much like Brad Stevens in Boston, Rivers thrives when coaching hard working overachievers, so it will be interesting to see how he runs both ends of the floor with potentially the most collection of talent he’s had at his disposal.
With all trades involving a star in the NBA, depth is always an area of focus for the team that acquires them as it usually requires a large part of their depth to be shipped off in the transaction. The Clippers are no different in this respect, and the depth of their roster has been an area that hasn’t received as much attention as it should have at this stage.
Danilo Gallinari is a player that was packaged in this deal, who was just a shade under the Clippers leading scorer last season. Yes of course his scoring output will be replaced by both George and Leonard, however these are pieces that could have really helped with your depth when it matters most, especially for a team thin in the front court. Gallinari is actually an underrated loss as he is a matchup problem for most teams with his unique skillset and size. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the other player involved which gives a hit to their back court depth as well.
As of right now, the Clippers depth isn’t as good as perceived in comparison to some other contenders. Besides sixth man of the year Lou Williams, it’s hard to definitively label anyone else in the second unit as a game changer. Sure, they have serviceable players in the bench unit such as Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGuder, Ivicia Zubac and newly re-signed JaMychal Green, however it’s hard to find big time game changers.
Of course sacrificing some of your depth is necessary when bringing in a player of George’s caliber; however it does unbalance the roster ever so slightly from top to bottom. The Clippers still have roster spots to be filled, but as of right now their depth should be an area of focus.
5. COULD AFFORD TO TRADE THEIR FUTURE
The Clippers seemingly traded away their entire future when they shipped off young gun Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and all of their foreseeable future first round picks, however, due to the circumstances; they’ve also locked up both Leonard and George for an extended time in the process.
Leonard signed a 4 year/$190 million deal, whilst George has just finished the first campaign of his 4 year/$136 Million deal. With Leonard becoming a free agent in 2023, and George a year earlier in 2022, the Clippers have a guaranteed three years with the dynamic wing pairing. Of course, things can happen in between that time, however, the duration of George’s contract was the ultimate insurance policy for them whilst giving away so many assets.
6. JERRY WEST COULD BE THE GREATEST EXECUTIVE EVER
This point is self-explanatory but still important to note, as Leonard was more comfortable and put his trust in in the stability of Jerry West and the Clippers front office over anyone else. West was a driving force in the Kawhi sweepstakes, and as all the other suitors were making noise, West went about his business quietly and received the biggest prize for it. Let me just run through a couple of things that make Jerry West arguably the greatest executive of all time.
– Drafts Nick Van Exel in the 2nd round in 1993
– Drafts Eddie Jones in the 1st round in 1994
– Trades Vlade Divac for Kobe Bryant
– Acquires Shaquille O’Neal
– Constructs a team to win 3 straight titles for the Lakers
– Turns Memphis into a playoff team within a year
– Wins executive of the year in 2004
– Drafts Klay Thompson with pick 11 in 2011 draft
– Drafts Draymond Green a year later in the second round
– Stopped a Klay Thompson for Kevin Love trade
– Convinced Kevin Durant to sign in Golden State
– Traded Chris Paul as he was declining
– Signed Blake Griffin to a max deal knowing he’d trade him for assets while his value was still high
– Convinces Kawhi Leonard to join the Clippers
– Trades for Paul George
Not to mention all the minor turned major roster building and cap maneuvering, Jerry West is a legend on and off the court.
7. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A SMALL MARKET TEAM IN THE NBA NOW
If this NBA free agency period has taught us anything, it’s that the stigma that small market teams are not appealing is flat out incorrect. The Clippers play in a big market, however are still in the shadow of the Lakers on a local and global scale. Despite this, they managed to capture the biggest free agent name.
The Brooklyn Nets lured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving away from the larger than life New York Knicks, who were left with nothing, and more and more free agents are looking at situations and rosters rather than markets on where they want to sign and live.
The notion that smaller market teams have no leverage or power in the NBA to attract top tier free agent talent is dead. The league is too popular and cap space is too high for that to be the case nowadays.
8. CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS BUT NOTHING MORE JUST YET
The beautiful thing about the Leonard decision and the demise of the Golden State Warriors with Kevin Durant leaving is that the league is as wide open as it’s ever been in recent memory. Despite the big time moves the Clippers have made, there is no way of saying that they are a lock for the NBA title, which is great for the league.
Entering this season, there are legitimately 8 or so teams which believe they have a chance at winning it all (10 if the Heat land Westbrook). The Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets, Bucks, 76ers, Blazers, Jazz, Celtics all believe they have a shot, and it couldn’t be better for the overall game. All of a sudden the regular season means more than it has in a while, and that’s the way it should be.
9. CAN THEY DEFEND THE BEST FRONT COURTS ON THE INSIDE?
We’ve already discussed how talented and formidable the Clippers roster is, however their main concern is interior defense. They will be good in this area from a general league standpoint, but come the post season, this could be their biggest weakness and area for exploitation. It’s not a weakness due to personnel, but rather matchups when considering who they might run in to during the business end of the season.
With both Conferences being stacked in the front court positions, the Clippers could run into the following front court duos they’d have to deal with in the post season: Davis/Cousins (Lakers), Jokic/Millsap (Nuggets), Antetokounmpo/Lopez (Bucks), Capela/Tucker (Rockets), Horford/Embiid (76ers). Given the NBA landscape and roster construction, as well as the fact the league will be more inside-out than it has in recent times with the Warriors in a transition stage, one can make a claim the Clippers will get pounded inside the paint when they come up against these sort of duos. Harrell will likely be the team’s starting big man, however he is undersized at the Center positon, Ivicia Zubac is talented but still learning, and recently re-signed big man JaMychal Green has transformed into more a floor spacer than inside presence or consistent shot blocker as of late.
With this being considered, the Clippers may have everyone beat on the wings with their star pairing, but inside the paint they could suffer. It’s likely they’ll have a closing lineup of Beverley, Williams, Leonard, George and Harrell which is fantastic but doesn’t boast a player bigger than 6’9”. The Clippers will be a great defensive team overall, but this could be their biggest weakness when it matters most.
10. LOS ANGELES IS NOW THE MECCA OF BASKETBALL
Forget New York or any other big market, the basketball world will be fixated on Los Angeles every single day. The potential of this Lakers-Clippers rivalry is mouthwatering, and the prospect of both teams potentially meeting in a Conference Finals is wild. With both teams battling it out for local and league supremacy, this upcoming NBA campaign is as intriguing as any we’ve ever anticipated.
11. ANYTHING GOES IN THE NBA
The Paul George trade to the Clippers highlights anything really does go in the NBA nowadays. Nothing is off limits or too hard to construct, and this league is nothing short of polarizing. Russell Westbrook held a private party in celebration of Paul George signing a max contract with the Thunder, George was dancing on stage and telling everyone there he’s staying, and just months later Kawhi Leonard has recruited him under cover and he ends up in a Clippers jersey, forcing another title contender in the Thunder into a premature rebuild. Nothing is impossible in this league, and the Clippers have proved that.
Balance is restored.