These two moves shake the foundation of the NBA during a summer that has seen the landscape change big time around the Association.
Los Angeles now has two super teams out west while the Oklahoma City Thunder are set to blow it up. Meanwhile, the defending champion Raptors are reeling after the Brooklyn Nets added Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from the George and Leonard blockbusters.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
This one goes without say. The Clippers were seen as team No. 3 in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes behind the Lakers and Raptors. Once Paul George was contacted by Leonard about teaming up in their home city, everything changed. A Team that had struck out on multiple big-time free agents over the past several years landed two of the game’s top stars.
Sure the Clippers gave up a plethora of assets to land George in a trade from Oklahoma City. But it was more than worth it. A core group of George, Leonard, Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell is absolutely legit.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
The defending champs did everything possible to retain Leonard. They pulled out all the stops. But in the end, the reigning NBA Finals MVP wanted to return home to Los Angeles. We can’t blame Leonard for this decision. Though, it has to be a gut punch to the Raptors and the entire nation of Canada.
While Toronto does boast some solid young talent in that of Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, it is nowhere near odd-on favorites to win the Eastern Conference. Such is the nature of the beast when you lose one of the game’s top-five talents.
Winner: Eastern Conference contenders
The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets had to be joyous early Saturday morning when news broke that Leonard decided to head out west. With Leonard aboard, the defending champs were favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference. That’s no longer the case.
A debate will rage. One can easily conclude that Toronto is now the lesser of these five teams. Milwaukee retained most of its core group. Boston did well to add Kemba Walker after losing Kyrie Irving. Philadelphia retained Tobias Harris while signing Al Horford. Meanwhile, the Nets struck gold with Irving and Durant. Toronto? Well, it got significantly worst.
Loser: Los Angeles Lakers
Mere hours after losing out on the Leonard sweepstakes, Los Angeles sought out to fill out its roster by signing the likes of Danny Green and DeMarcus Cousins while re-signing Rajon Rondo, among others. That’s in no way a win given that many had concluded that these Lakers were favorites to sign Leonard.
Even after adding Anthony Davis to the mix, it’s not certain that these Lakers are favorites to come out of the Western Conference. We’re looking at a top heavy conference with as many as six title contenders. Adding Leonard would have changed that. Alas, it was not to be.
Winner: Golden State Warriors
Adding to the previous point, it’s safe to assume that the five-time defending Western Conference champs are happy Leonard did not land with the Lakers. Sure having the reigning NBA Finals MVP in the same division hurts. But if Leonard had joined the Lakers, it would’ve been pretty clear that Golden State had no real chance out west.
That’s no longer the case. By virtue of landing D’Angelo Russell in the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade, Golden State will again field four All-Stars once Klay Thompson returns next season. That core group should be top-end contenders in the conference.
Loser: LeBron James
For the first time in seemingly forever, James’ recruitment of another star failed big time. He had in the past worked to bring Chris Bosh to Miami and Kevin Love to Cleveland. Earlier this summer, James’ presence in Los Angeles helped clear the way for the Anthony Davis blockbuster.
Maybe it is his age and the fact hat LeBron is in the back end of his prime. But for whatever reason, he did not do enough to attract Leonard to the Lakers. Instead, one of the game’s best players will be a co-occupant with James at the Staples Center.
Bonus loser: Russell Westbrook
Paul George might have made it clear that he had no issue with Westbrook following the blockbuster trade to Los Angeles. That’s more than fine. But what we do know is that Russ is the only remaining piece in Oklahoma City after the team lost or moved on from Kevin Durant, James Harden and Mr. George. That has to be a punch to the gut for Westbrook.
We also now know that the Thunder might very well be looking to move Westbrook and start anew with a rebuild. Could that land the defending NBA MVP on a non-competitive team like that Knicks? We’ll find out soon enough.