Clippers Sign Kawhi Leonard

Blockbuster Trade Will Change NBA Landscape

The Los Angeles Clippers have finally arrived. The Clippers have been fighting for relevancy in a city where the Los Angeles Lakers legacy has completely dominated the professional basketball scene. On late Friday night, NBA Superstar Kawhi Leonard decided to officially come home and become a Clipper.

Leonard ended up signing a max contract with the Clippers after they acquired Paul George from the Thunder in exchange for five first-round selections, two pick swaps, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari.

The trade stunned the rest of the NBA. The signing and blockbuster trade will reshape the NBA landscape. Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavalier forward and former UCLA star, may have said it best: "What in the world just happened????" In a manner of minutes, the Clippers went from being the "little brother" in the city to the Vegas favorites to win the NBA Championship in 2020.

The Clippers have been sneaking up on the Lakers for the past decade. They have had eight straight winning seasons. In the previous 41 seasons, the Clippers had six winning seasons. The Lakers have had six straight losing seasons. The Clippers have been in the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons. The Lakers have missed the playoffs the past six seasons.

The Clippers management set this "changing of the guard" up with the breakup of the their Big Three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan starting in 2017. Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets for Sam Dekker, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, DeAndre Liggins, Darrun Hilliard, Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Wiltjer, and a top-three-protected 2018 first-round pick.

Griffin was traded at the 2018 trade deadline to Detroit for guard Avery Bradley, forward Tobias Harris, center Boban Marjanovic, a future protected first-round draft choice and a future second round draft choice. DeAndre Jordan singed as a free agent with the Dallas Mavericks.

Harris was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for rookie guard Landry Shamet, two 1st round picks and two 2nd round picks. Shamet was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team for 2019.

By trading their stars, the Clippers were able to collect assets in players and draft picks, while clearing salary cap space for NBA free agency in the Summer of 2019. The salary cap space created made the signing of Leonard a possibility. At the same time, the Clippers were able to continue to play good basketball, ending up 48-34 and in the 2019 playoffs.

Beverley, Williams and Harrell, all acquired in the Paul trade, were key contributors the 2019 playoff run. Williams won the 6th Man of the Year for the third time in his career. The signing of Leonard and George left the Clippers with a very formidable roster going forward.

Offensively, George was second in the NBA in scoring last season at 28 points per game. Leonard was 7th in the NBA in scoring at 26.6 points per game. Williams led the Clippers in scoring at 20 points per game off the bench.

Harrell also came off the bench to average 16.6 points per game. Defensively, George was first team All-Defense in 2019 and Leonard was 2nd team All-Defense in 2019. In 2017, Leonard and Beverley were both first team All-Defense. In 2014, all three made the team. The Clippers will be a very tough defensive matchup for every NBA team.

The Lakers trade of Ivica Zubic to the Clippers at the trade deadline in February is a glaring example of current Laker management. Zubic was traded for veteran Mike Muscala, with the Lakers in desperate need of outside shooting. Zubic is 22 years old, 7'1", 240 pounds, the kind of size every NBA team is looking for.

Zubic started 25 of 26 games for the Clippers, averaging 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in 20.2 minutes per game. Zubic played well for the Clippers. He was recently signed by the Clippers to a four-year, $28 million-dollar contract. The 28-year-old Muscala did not play well for the Lakers and recently signed with the Thunder.

It is not all bad for the Lakers. They have superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis in their lineup. Once Leonard decided on the Clippers, the Lakers were able to use the $33 million in salary cap space to sign forward Danny Green, guard Avery Bradley and center Demarcus Cousins. The Lakers also resigned point guard Rajon Rondo and center Javale McGee from last season's roster.

The Lakers roster this past season was just not good enough, especially when James went down with a groin injury. It will be much better next season with the acquisition of Davis. The Lakers should be a playoff team.

The issue for the Lakers next season will be at point guard. The Lakers are talking about moving James to point guard. With either a 35-year-old James or a 34-year-old Rondo at point guard, the Lakers will be even more challenged defensively than they were this past season.

The Lakers have been to 40 NBA conference finals, winning 31 times. That is an NBA record. At one point in their history, the western conference finals were really the "Laker Invitational." The Clippers, on the other hand, are one of three teams that have never played in an NBA conference final. The Lakers have an illustrious history, the Clippers are trying to establish an identity, a winning culture.

The decision by Leonard to join the Clippers and his ability to talk George into asking for a trade to the Clippers was like an NBA earthquake. The Lakers and Clippers could both offer Leonard the same salary and the same location.

The difference is the organizations. Leonard chose the organization that is trending upward. It was a decision that could change the balance of power in the NBA. Which should concern Laker fans, as well as Laker management.

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