The Lakers made signing Kawhi Leonard their number one priority in free agency this summer, following the acquisition of Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, the Lakers weren’t the only Los Angeles team gunning for Leonard’s services. In the end, it was the crosstown Clippers that swooped in and secured a commitment from the two-time NBA Finals MVP. Board Man got paid, to the tune of $142 million over four years.
Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard has informed runners-up teams of his plans: He's signing with the Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Before Kawhi Leonard agreed to join the Clippers, he reportedly wanted assurances that another superstar would join him. With marquee players such as Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant already agreeing to sign elsewhere, the Clippers were forced to rely on the trade market in order to meet Leonard’s request. Rumors earlier in the week pointed to Brad Beal of the Washington Wizards being a possibility, but in the end, the target was someone that nobody expected. Jerry West and the Clippers zeroed in on acquiring Thunder superstar and Los Angeles native Paul George.
Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Post-trade, reports of Leonard and George’s roles in the trade began to surface—apparently Leonard had reached out to George to gauge his interest in teaming up. George responded positively but knew his options were limited as he was still under contract with the Thunder. George reached out to the Oklahoma City front office, explaining why he was seeking a trade At that point, the Thunder and Clippers were both made aware that the Kawhi Leonard signing hinged on Paul George being traded to LA.
Sources: Leonard and George met in LA earlier in week. Clippers had long been frontrunners for Leonard, but it is unlikely he would've made final leap to sign without PG trade. Clippers imagined Leonard as part of a Lakers Big 3 --- and knew they had no choice. They did OKC deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
In the end, Kawhi Leonard didn't want to construct a Super Team with the Lakers. He wanted a co-star across the Staples corridor with the Clippers, and made it clear to Steve Ballmer and Lawrence Frank: Get PG, and I'm coming.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Despite the sharp turnaround from last summer’s “Unfinished Business” narrative, Oklahoma City General Manager Sam Presti decided to accommodate Paul George’s sudden trade request. The asking price for George would likely never be higher due to the once in a lifetime circumstances surrounding the trade request. After continually committing resources to team’s that failed to make deep playoff runs, now was as good a time as any for Presti to usher in a rebuilding phase in Oklahoma City. So Presti controversially—but wisely—pulled the trigger on the summer’s biggest blockbuster trade, sending shockwaves throughout the NBA that will be felt for years to come.
The Clippers are sending the Thunder four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick and two pick swaps, league sources tell ESPN. Those picks go to OKC with Gallinari and SGA.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Following Adrian Wojnarowski’s all-out nuclear strike, the dust finally settled, and the Vegas odds for next season shifted accordingly. The Clippers are now listed with the best chance to win the NBA Finals, at +300, followed closely by the Lakers at +400. The next closest Western Conference team comes in at +1400, suggesting that Vegas expects the 2020 NBA Finals to be played in The City of Angels.
Lakers Miss Out On Kawhi, Promptly Execute Backup Plan
Although the Clippers made the biggest splash, the Los Angeles Lakers have made plenty of noise of their own this summer. Anthony Davis was successfully plucked from the New Orleans Pelicans, in a move that was a long time coming for the Lakers.
The Lakers swung and missed on Kawhi Leonard, but they were smart to await his decision even while the majority of the free-agent pool disappeared. Despite the end result and the media criticism that followed, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka played his cards right. When you have a chance to (acquire Kawhi Leonard and) kickstart a dynasty, you go all-in.
Pelinka also knew there were far worse potential outcomes than not landing Leonard. By agreeing to acquire Davis earlier this summer, the Lakers positioned themselves to be successful no matter what Kawhi chose to do. When Leonard opted for the Clippers, Pelinka’s focus immediately shifted to building around the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers backup plan was executed rather smoothly, as they announced numerous short term deals in the hours following the Kawhi and PG13 news.
After failing to surround LeBron James with enough quality shooting last summer, Rob Pelinka knew what had to be done this time around. Pelinka didn’t necessarily land any big-time perimeter threats, but what he did do was add a slew of above-average to good shooters. Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Troy Daniels, Quinn Cook, Rajon Rondo, and Alex Caruso are all guards capable of knocking down threes.
Not to mention that the Lakers are in the process of adding Avery Bradley to a two-year deal once he clears waivers officially. They are using the room exemption to fill out the second to last spot on the roster.
As far as three-point shooting from forwards and bigs, the addition of Anthony Davis (33.1%) and likely improvement from Kyle Kuzma (30.3%) should be more than sufficient. Look for DeMarcus Cousins, Jared Dudley, and of course LeBron James (33.9%) to make contributions in this area as well. As the season unfolds, the Lakers will need to add more depth and shooting via waivers and the buyout market. Among players that come to mind are Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, and Ryan Anderson.
Even without Kawhi Leonard in purple and gold, the Lakers still have plenty of reason to be excited about a roster built around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The two superstars are flanked by a deep and talented group of role players and look primed to contend in the Western Conference. With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining the cast of the star-studded Staples Center, the road to the NBA Finals will almost certainly run through Los Angeles.