Major news broke in the dead of night for most of the country: Kawhi Leonard has finally made his free agency decision. Although it wasn’t necessarily many were expecting according to reports from media outlets. Signing with the Los Angeles Clippers on a 4-year $152 million deal, the Klaw left the champion Toronto Raptors after a single season. The shock of his move was not yet complete though, as part of the deal was for the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade Paul George to the Clippers as well.
The Lakers ‘little brother’ now presents as one of the main contenders for the Western Conference representative in the 2019 NBA Finals. The presence of Leonard, George and resigned point guard Patrick Beverley make for one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. The move has shaken up the entire league, not just the Western Conference.
Toronto is now left without a star option for their lineup, and Kyle Lowry is not going to carry the Raptors to a repeat. Brooklyn will not contend for a title this season, as Kevin Durant is injured with a torn achilles. Milwaukee will largely run their squad back and both Boston and Philadelphia made small tweaks to their teams to topple the Bucks.
In the West, the Lakers are now having to scramble to fill out their roster. Immediately after Kawhi announced his decision, smaller signings of Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Javale McGee and Quinn Cook were made public. Additionally, Demarcus Cousins was announced to the Lakers on a 1-year deal. The timing of the move has not only solidified the Western Conference as the hardest NBA conference, but has left many teams scrambling for the final pieces to complete their rosters.
All NBA teams now have 2 stars or less for this coming season. The balance of power in the league has not been this close in more than a decade. Take a guess at the one of 10 potential teams capable of winning the title next year and your guess will be as good as anyone else’s. The Western Conference specifically looks to be more competitive than ever and the way I project it, 7 of the 8 playoff seeds already seemed locked up:
The Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets, Blazers and Jazz are certainties for me. The Warriors are a likely inclusion next year, but will largely hinder on the Steph Curry’s ability to carry the team for 4+ months single-handedly. If there is a setback in Klay Thompson’s recovery, there is potential that Golden State is on the outs come playoff time. After these spots, the Mavericks, Spurs, Pelicans and Kings are the likely remaining teams in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Improved from last year, Dallas and New Orleans present very real possibilities at playoff races. The Thunder should be on the outside looking in and are currently exploring the possibility of trading star Russell Westbrook. There is chaos everywhere. The main conclusion from the final domino falling in free agency is that anyone’s race is as good as any other. The NBA regular season is set for more drama and of course a killer playoffs.