Kawhi Leonard has made his decision. After winning the 2019 NBA Championship with the Toronto Raptors, Leonard has chosen to take his talents back to Southern California in the service of the LA Clippers.
Despite being eligible for a five year $192 million extensions with the Toronto Raptors, Leonard decided that the chance to play in his home state was too great to pass up. Instead, Leonard will don the red and blue of the historically mediocre LA Clippers for a four year $142 million deal.
It wasn't the Clippers roster that enticed him though. Clippers GM Michael Winger and Consultant and Legend Jerry West were able to bring in the third place finalist for the 2018-2019 MVP award Paul George to pair with the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
In exchange for steady veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, promising guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first round pick, and two pick swaps, the Clippers wholesaled their future for a chance at greatness to pair Leonard and George.
How Does This Affect the NBA?
Gaining the services of a player at the level of Kawhi Leonard is nothing to scoff at. The Clippers are now immediate title contenders, but his choice will have wide-spanning repercussions on the rest of the league.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have suffered through a lifetime of mediocrity. Without a single championship, conference finals appearance, and of course finals appearance, the little brother of Los Angeles basketball has always been grasping for relevance.
Leonard brings a championship pedigree, efficient scoring, and an all-time defensive acumen. He brought an underachieving Toronto Raptors team to a championship and his supporting cast with the Clippers should at least be at that level.
Don't forget about Paul George though. The dynamic wing player was third in MVP voting this past season and is entering the prime of his career. After trying to make a splash with the Pacers then the Thunder, he's found himself in the best situation of his tenure. Not many teams boast an MVP-calibre talent, the Clippers have two that fit that bill in George and Leonard.
The Los Angeles Clippers have become the odds on favorite to win the 2020 NBA Championship, at a +275.
Los Angeles Lakers
Just when the balance of power seemed to shift in the favor of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Clippers stole their thunder. Regardless, the Lakers own two of the NBA's best players. While their roster has thinned due to trades, their talent is unquestionable. The Clippers may be the favorites, but the Lakers aren't far behind.
LeBron James remains one of the NBA's most talented stars. While last season was the first time he's missed the playoffs since 2005, he seems primed to make a grand return in 2019-2020. There's not another player that maintains his combination of strength, speed, and leadership and his ability to attract the biggest stars is of great benefit.
Speaking of attracting stars, James was able to finally acquire the second-star of his dreams when the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis is one of the NBA's premier defenders, almost in a three-way tie with the Clippers' Leonard and the Jazz's Rudy Gobert. With renewed confidence in his side, the Lakers seem to be entering another successful run.
The Los Angeles Lakers have the second-highest odds to win the 2020 NBA Championship, at a +375.
Oklahoma City Thunder
With Paul George heading to the Clippers, @WojESPN reports the Thunder are talking to Russell Westbrook about trade scenarios. Ex-teammate @KendrickPerkins thinks Russ should go to the Heat, but does Miami want that contract? (Russ will earn $47.1 million the year he turns 34) pic.twitter.com/RokceRs7A6— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) July 6, 2019
Seemingly forgotten in the schemes of the NBA's larger markets, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a victim of Kawhiwatch. After losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in a competitive first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Thunder felt they didn't want to continue with their current core.
After losing Paul George to the Clippers, the Thunder are in relative limbo. They still have the All-NBA talents of Russell Westbrook, but the trade of George has left Westbrook questioning their desire to compete for a championship.
While the Thunder received some interesting assets in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and a multitude of first-round draft picks, they are clearly out on competing for a championship this coming season. Questions are already abound regarding Westbrook's future in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are tied for the sixteenth best odds to win the 2020 NBA Championship with the New Orleans Pelicans, at a +7000.
Toronto Raptors Odds
After a season of the ultimate highs, the Toronto Raptors were hit hard by the decision of their own star Kawhi Leonard choosing to play in his home state of California. The 2019 NBA Champions won't be able to rest on their laurels, as they enter 2019-2020 back at the bottom of the contenders' list.
Despite Leonard leaving, the Raptors still own a multitude of capable pieces. Kyle Lowry is still one of the NBA's best two-way point guards, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka bring both offensive and defensive versatility, while Fred Vanvleet and Pascal Siakam are clearly the future of the franchise.
While they won the championship in 2019, the Raptors will have to prove themselves all over again. Can they retain their form and inspire themselves to victory without their star piece in the fold? Never has an NBA Champion had more to prove the following season.
After beginning the offseason in the top four in odds to win the NBA Championship, the Toronto Raptors are now twelfth in the rankings at a +3500.
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