You know you’re big time when you can top an earthquake as the biggest news of the day. Just a little over two hours after a 7.1 magnitude quake rocked Southern California, Kawhi Leonard registered a major aftershock when he decided to come to the Los Angeles Clippers and brought another All-Star player with him.
The stunning announcement shifted the balance of power in the NBA. All of a sudden, the Clippers — long considered the JV team at Staples Center — became the favorites to win the 2019-20 NBA title and it evaporated dreams of a Lakers superteam. In the end, Kawhi wasn’t really interested in joining forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He was more interested in creating his own dynamic duo across the hallway.
Sacramento may be the capital of California, but Los Angeles is now the epicenter of the basketball universe.
For a guy known around the league for being quiet, Kawhi sure knows how to communicate what he wants. Kawhi looked around the landscape to see who’d be interested in joining him in L.A. He reportedly tried Kevin Durant, but he was already set for Brooklyn. There were reports he tried to lure Kyrie Irving but Kyrie also had his sights set on Brooklyn. That’s when he turned his attention to another former Southern California native, Paul George. Kawhi laid the groundwork by talking to George about joining forces. Once PG13 was onboard, Kawhi then told the Clippers what he wanted. His message was: make it happen and I’m coming. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, coach Doc Rivers and general manager Lawrence Frank went to work, and with the help of legend Jerry West acting as yoda, the Clippers got a deal done with Oklahoma City to bring George to L.A. Once PG13 was in the Clipper fold, Kawhi said “no” to the Lakers and Toronto Raptors.
This is now the new NBA. Two stars surrounded by good role players.
When Durant decided to leave Golden State and take his talents to Brooklyn, the superteam era officially came to an end. And this is a good thing for the league because the Warriors simply had a significant competitive advantage during Durant’s three years in the Bay Area. They had arguably four of the top 15 players in the league all in the primes. It just wasn’t fair.
Now that the Warriors are down to three studs (two for now until Klay Thompson returns from his ACL injury), teams feel like they have a shot.
Kawhi saw what Durant went through in Golden State. He saw all the scrutiny KD endured for joining a superteam and he wasn’t about to walk into that same fire. Kawhi already earned two NBA championship rings and wasn’t interested in being handed a third.
The move may not have been popular in Laker Land but it definitely made it a lot more interesting for the NBA and basketball fans. The league is wide open.
The Clippers may be heavy favorites according to Las Vegas oddmakers but there are bunch of teams led by terrific tandems right behind them, all with legitimate shots at winning a championship. OneManFastbreak breaks down the best duos in the NBA:
Kawhi Leonard + Paul George (L.A. Clippers) – Kawhi and PG are considered the best two-way players in the NBA. Add pit bull guard Patrick Beverley to the mix and the Clippers may possess the most impenetrable defense in basketball.
LeBron James + Anthony Davis (L.A. Lakers) – Last we checked, LeBron is still pretty good. He’s coming off one of his worst seasons due to injury, but statistically LeBron is still a top-15 player when healthy. The same can be said about AD. When he’s healthy, Davis is arguably the best big man in the basketball and capable of producing astronomical numbers.
Steph Curry + Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors) – The Splash Brothers have taken a bit of a hit recently due to injuries and tons of mileage from playing in five straight NBA Finals. But we’re not ready to count out the Splash Brothers.
James Harden + Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets) – When Woj broke the story that Westbrook would be traded from OKC to Houston for Chris Paul and draft picks, a lot of basketball pundits immediately dismissed the Harden-Westbrook collabo as a desperate move by the Rockets. Talking heads are completely missing one important factor: friendship. Harden and Westbrook are very good friends off the court, so they will find a way to make it work on the court.
Damian Lillard + C.J. McCollum (Portland Trail Blazers) – One NBA executive said Lillard and McCollum are so good they can carry three dudes from the YMCA into the playoffs. Lillard and McCollum could have been in the Finals if Jusuf Nurkic didn’t break his leg.
Ben Simmons + Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers) – Simmons and Embiid are the Eastern Conference version of LeBron and AD. The Sixers came within a Kawhi Hail Mary bounce in Game 7 from reaching the conference finals. If Simmons adds a jumper and Embiid gets in better shape, Philly could reach the Finals for the first time since the Allen Iverson era.
Mike Conley + Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz) – The Jazz upgraded at point guard with the acquisition of Mike Conley from Memphis. The veteran gives budding superstar Donovan Mitchell a runningmate who can run the team, score if needed and defend his position.
Jamal Murray + Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets) – Jokic had a breakout season in 2019 as he established himself as one of the best centers in the Association. The 7-footer is a walking triple-double and the Nuggets run their offense through him. The Nuggets believe in Murray after signing him to a $170 million contract.
Kyrie Irving + Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets) – This dynamic duo should be higher strictly on star power. Because of Durant’s devastating Achilles injury, NBA fans will have to wait a year. Kyrie will have to shoulder the load until KD returns.