The 2019-20 NBA season is going to be glorious crapshoot. And for that, we should thank Kawhi Leonard.
I know I’m not the only one still trying to wrap my head around precisely what the hell happened Friday night when shortly after 11 p.m. PT the basketball world was rocked by the news that Leonard was taking his talents to Los Angeles’ other team—the Clippers. And then things got crazier when word dropped a few minutes after that that fellow NBA All-Star Paul George would be joining him thanks to a colossal trade.
Putting into proper prospective the massive movement experienced last night is a struggle right now because who could’ve ever predicted this? Only a few hours after the Los Angeles area experienced its second major earthquake in as many days, the Leonard/George news rattled Twitter and the basketball world in ways that I could spend 10,000 words trying to explain. But I can’t stop thinking about how Leonard’s signing and the trade for George means the league is locked and loaded to have its most fun, wide open, and completely unpredictable season we’ve seen in a long, long time.
Get hyped now.
The 2019-20 NBA season is completely up for grabs right now with loaded teams all over the league. We have Kawhi Leonard to thank for that. The Fun Guy with yet another flex.
Certain players have the ability to tilt power in the league and Leonard pulled one hell of a power play Friday. His decision to sign with the Clippers—contingent, reportedly, that they find a way to get George—sent reverberations throughout the NBA. But I’m most gassed up by his decision not to sign with the Lakers and join LeBron James and Anthony Davis and what that means for the leauge as a whole. Because as I’ve laid out before, pairing him with those two would’ve been unfair. It would’ve created another superteam and arguably the greatest big three in modern NBA times, tilting the power of the league so heavily toward one team that playing out the season almost would’ve felt like “What’s the point?” The league became a little too predictable before a game was ever played during the Warriors run and we didn’t need to transition from one dynasty to the next right away. The Lakers would’ve been installed as massive favorites to win it all and, barring injury, probably would’ve waltzed their way to a title because who is beating LeBron, Kawhi, and AD?
Instead, Leonard chose a different path, which is on brand for the most mysterious modern NBA superstar. Despite being a Lakers fan growing up in Southern California, Leonard hitched his wagon to the team perennially in the shadow of the uber glamorous and (historically) ultra successful Lakers. The Clippers’ history ain’t much to look at, having never reached a Western Conference Final. The fan base is different than the Lakers. The vibe in Staples Center when the Clippers play is different than when the Lakers play. But the Clippers are way more stable with a front office, owner, and coach that has transformed the franchise into one of the most attractive in the league. Location, of course, helps, but the Clippers have experienced sustained success and proven to be drama free during the Steve Ballmer-Doc Rivers era in ways other big market squads can only dream of.
Now, with the target they’ve coveted for over a year secured, and a 2018-19 MVP finalist added to the mix, the Clippers are shockingly favorites to win the NBA title. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s and remember the trash teams the Clippers ran out under their disgraced former owner Donald Sterling then you know how alien the above sentence sounds.
Oddsmakers around the world appropriately adjusted things after the news broke. The Clippers (roughly 3-1) are front-runners followed by the Bucks (4-1), Lakers (6-1), Sixers (7-1), Rockets and Warriors (10-1), and Jazz (12-1).
If you know anything about odds, that illustrates how gloriously wide open the upcoming season is expected to be. Depending on your own individual power rankings, I would easily say there are six teams in the Western Conference that have legit NBA Finals aspirations (Clippers, Lakers, Jazz, Rockets, Blazers, and Nuggets). And who knows what happens with the Warriors when Klay Thompson comes back from his knee injury? The battle for the final few playoff spots in the West is going to be a dogfight and just thinking about how dramatic the postseason will be out West next spring should give every NBA fan goosebumps.
Meanwhile, in the East, the Bucks and Sixers appear to be the two best teams and a conference Finals between them would be awesome. But they aren’t the only two squads who can mix it up. We all know what Brooklyn did this off-season and while no Kevin Durant means they’re not true title contenders yet, it’s still an ultra impressive roster with Kyrie Irving running the show. I love what the Pacers did and if Victor Oladipo returns to form then look out for Indiana. The Celtics took a bit of a hit, but it’s still a team that’s got a ton of talent, added Kemba Walker, and features a coach everyone raves about. And while the Raptors won’t be the same without Leonard, it’s still a damn good roster that will be among the better teams in the East.
All the above isn’t worth mentioning if Kawhi signs with the Lakers. That’s real talk. Because, hypothetically speaking, having three top five NBA players on the same roster would’ve made things so ridiculous that betting against the Lakers’ three-headed monster would have to be reclassified as a misdemeanor: unnecessary abuse and gross misconduct toward your bank account, punishable by never being allowed to gamble on the NBA again.
Less than a month after the Lakers gave up a haul to land Anthony Davis, it was startling to see how much the Clippers relinquished—the Clippers reportedly are sending the highly-regarded young point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to the Thunder along with a stupid amount of draft picks: four unprotected first-rounders, a protected first-round pick, and a couple of pick swaps—to essentially acquire two superstars. But for a franchise that’s never won anything, you give up that much to get a pair that can lead a team through uncharted territory. It’s also fascinating the power an All-NBA player possesses these days. Leonard almost completely paralyzed three franchises (Clippers, Lakers, and Raptors) while he decided his free agency fate. Meanwhile, George’s reported demand for a trade was met almost immediately as the Thunder opted to accommodate him instead of trying to convince the guy they signed to a massive deal last summer should stick around. What happens with OKC and Russell Westbrook is about to become the most intriguing storyline in the NBA.
But we’ll leave that alone for now and just bask in the glory of the unpredictable after last night’s double-dose of earth shaking events in Los Angeles. The 2019-20 NBA season is completely up for grabs right now with loaded teams all over the league. We have Kawhi Leonard to thank for that. The Fun Guy with yet another flex.