Article by: Harrison Weaver
From the minute free-agency opened a week and a half ago, no one had any clue what-so-ever where Kawhi was going to go. The notoriously silent Board Man was doing what he does best, keeping quiet. KD and Kyrie committed to the Nets, Kemba to Boston, Jimmy Butler to Miami, Al Horford and Tobias Harris to Philly. Almost a full week later, and we still have no idea when Fun Guy will make his decision. Then, in the most Kawhi way possible, the news dropped at 2 AM on Friday night when most of the population was sound asleep. Some people were awake and making plenty of noise over group chats and social media. I was not one of them, I remember waking up at 9AM Saturday morning to a significant amount of notifications and being in complete disarray as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
How could something this important have happened between 1:30 AM and now? Who does that? I, in my entire life, have never heard of anybody make a huge free-agency decision at two in the morning. Nonetheless, Kawhi Leonard had announced his decision to sign with the Clippers in unison with the news that Paul George would be traded to the Clippers for Danillo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and a whole mess of draft picks. The Clippers were the final winners of the free agent sweepstakes, immediately making them a top-tier title contender. At last, Kawhi Leonard could rest, and watch the sun rise on a grateful universe (insert Thanos meme here).
We have not seen a perfectly balanced NBA in about 4 years now. I could argue that it has been more like 9 years if you want to count the Heat, who went to the Finals every year during the Big 3 era, preceding the beginning of the Cavs vs Warriors rivalry. Either way, dating back to the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant joined the 73-win Warriors, each NBA season has been opened with false hopes that somebody will beat the Warriors, only to have them easily cruise to back-to-back titles (Only exception: 2018 Rockets who took them to 7 games). It was not until this postseason, which involved multiple superstar injuries and a Kawhi Leonard who was a man on a mission to finally up-end the Kevin Durant-led Warriors.
Here we are, less than a month later, and the NBA is a very different world than what we have seen in a long time. Nobody can point a finger and make a confident guess as to who will come out of each conference. Who is going to win the West? The Lakers? Clippers? Rockets? Jazz? Nuggets? Blazers? We have no clue. The East is the same way. Except it is more of a two, maybe three team race between Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and possibly Boston. The most intriguing storyline we will be seeing for the next few years is the Battle for LA. Let me go ahead and break that down.
Kawhi Leonard’s handling of free agency was a stroke of genius. He kept the Raptors, Clippers, and Lakers all waiting for him to make his decision while the other big-name free agents were busy signing elsewhere. You can throw the Raptors out of this conversation because Kawhi’s stalling was not about them, it was going to be about either the Clippers or the Lakers. It is as simple as this: if the Clippers did not get Paul George or someone else of Kawhi’s hand picking, he was going to go to the Lakers. Do the math. Kawhi played some offseason ‘defense’ in the sense that neither LA team could afford to sign any other free agents until after Kawhi made his decision, because they needed all that cap space to sign him. Essentially, one LA team was going to win big-time, and the other one would miss out on him and be stuck trying to sign the scraps that were left in the free agent pool versus being able to hunt another superstar.
The Clippers were able to execute that trade with the Thunder for Paul George, which then made Kawhi’s decision official to join the Clippers. So now, for the next few years, we will get to see LeBron, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and company take on Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and his team for an all-out battle for dominance in the city, a seat upon the top of the Western Conference, and ultimately a chance to win the NBA Finals. This is something to get excited about NBA fans! We finally have a level playing field and two elite teams in LA. It is looking like the road to the NBA Finals will run straight through the City of Angels, but we will have to see if it will be through the Lakers, Clippers, or maybe even both.
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