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Winners and Losers in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George choosing to play with Clippers

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Forget that little bit of shaking in Las Vegas, this was the earthquake that shook the NBA Friday night:

Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers and convinced Paul George to force the Thunder to trade him to Los Angeles as well. They formed their own superteam just down the hall from LeBron James and Anthony Davis — and the Clippers have a far better supporting cast. The rivalry is on in Los Angeles.

Who won and who lost in the big moves? Let’s break it all down.

First, one quick note: The Toronto Raptors are not on the list below. After this I can’t exactly call them winners, they just lost the best basketball player walking the face of the Earth and got nothing back. However, they aren’t losers, either — they won an NBA title with him. This was the gamble team president Masai Ujiri made: They could do everything right and still lose Leonard. That’s exactly what happened, and now they likely start down a path retooling around Pascal Siakam. But losers? They took a chance and won a title, that’s still the biggest win in the NBA.

Winner: Kawhi Leonard

Remember when we thought Leonard was just a basketball-playing robot devoid of human emotions or ambition outside of winning titles? A player custom-designed for Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. That seems a very, very long time ago now.

Leonard has taken charge of everything. On the court in these playoffs, he staked his claim as the best player in the world, leading Toronto to a title.

Now he’s taken charge of his career off the court in an “I’m a superstar and I can do what I want” kind of way. He forced his way out of San Antonio. After a season in Toronto, he tried to recruit Kevin Durant to join him on the Clippers (but KD, Kyrie Irving, and DeAndre Jordan were already all but headed to Brooklyn). So Leonard convinced Paul George to go into the Thunder offices, a year after he signed a max contract to stay there, and demand a trade to the Clippers. Then Leonard told the Clippers he would only sign with them if they landed George.

That is a superstar getting what he wants. That’s a winner.

Winner: Los Angeles Clippers

This win isn’t just about being title contenders, although the Clippers are certainly that now. This is a win about perception for the Clippers.

Talk to a basketball fan over age 28 about the Clippers and the images that come to mind are Donald Sterling’s comments and racism, drafting Michael Olowokandi, and Elgin Baylor as a caretaker GM not spending money. This was the organization that Lamar Odom begged not to bring him back.

That is not these Clippers. It hasn’t been for a while, but it takes time for perceptions to change. Ask a 24-year-old, fifth-year NBA player what he knows of the Clippers and he will say they make the playoffs every year, have a coach in Doc Rivers everyone wants to play for, they used to be Lob City, last season they had a scrappy team that looked like fun to play on, they have the logo in the front office, and they have an owner in Steve Ballmer worth $50 billion and he’s not afraid to spend it. The Clippers of recent years have been one of the best-run organizations in the NBA.

Now everyone will see that because they are contenders.

Loser: Los Angles Lakers

The Lakers — and Los Angeles as a city on some level — are a star-driven culture. Showtime was Magic and Kareem and Worthy. Then came Shaq and Kobe. Then Kobe and Pau (although Gasol was never quite pure Los Angeles in terms of showmanship and brand). It is in the franchise’s DNA to chase stars.

So there really wasn’t a choice for Laker GM Rob Pelika and company: Chase Leonard as their third star. Sure, there were risks, but they had to do it — and it was the right move. They came close to landing Leonard and having the greatest “big three” the NBA had ever seen.

But the nearly six days it took for Leonard to make his call — he was basically stalling for time so the Clippers could pull off the George trade, but he needed the leverage to get the Clippers to go all-in — left Los Angels with a much weaker field of rotation players to add to the roster. Guys who had been likely targets such as J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, Brook Lopez, Patrick Beverley, and more were off the board. The Lakers did well to land Danny Green, and DeMarcus Cousins can play a role, but the pickings got slim on the Lakers. Pelinka still has a lot of work to do on this roster if they are going to be a serious title threat.

Winner: NBA Fans: There is no superteam

This is Adam Silver’s favorite thing about the trade.

There are right now, by my (maybe conservative) estimate, eight NBA teams who can go into next season with the thought they have a shot at an NBA title. That is as close to parity as the NBA will ever get. The race is wide open. If Leonard had chosen the Lakers the NBA would have been back to the start of the last two seasons, just with Los Angeles taking Golden State’s place — there was one dominant team to beat and it was going to take a lot of things to go right to knock them off. Now, we get to see how team chemistry, healthy, and a plethora of other factors play into an open race, rather than seeing if some team can shock the world.

Loser: Russell Westbrook

This isn’t a “he’s a bad teammate” rant, in part because there are plenty of guys who would like to play with Westbrook, and in part because Paul George said that’s not the issue.

Instead, Westbrook is a loser because his world just got turned upside down. Westbrook thought he had a true partner in crime, but his man ran off to Los Angeles with some guy who has cornrows driving a 1997 Chevy Tahoe. The Thunder, as constructed, will be a borderline playoff team in the West. That means another year of Westbrook against the world, or the Thunder trade him, too. Which is likely the path everyone decides to go down, but finding a good team to take on the four years, nearly $170 million still on Westbrook’s contract (counting his option year) is not going to be easy.

Winner: Thunder GM Sam Presti

One year ago, Presti was validated. Oklahoma City had gambled on trading for Paul George when the people around the star tried to warn everyone off because he wanted to be a Laker, but after a year in OKC George signed up for four more.

This week, George walked into Presti’s office and demanded a trade to the Clippers. It was a punch to the gut on a lot of levels, a blow to the culture the Thunder thought they had built.

Presti recovered and got a haul equal to what the Pelicans got for Anthony Davis. OKC receives Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (second-team All-Rookie and a promising player), Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks (the Clippers first-round pick unprotected in 2022, 2024 and 2026, the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 pick and Miami’s lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick) plus the right to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.

Whatever direction the Thunder go now, they have a lot of assets and options.

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers

Kawhi Leonard is out of the East and now the path to the Finals just got a whole lot easier. The Bucks and 76ers are two clear favorites to come out of the conference, and one fewer hurdle stands in their way.

Zion Williamson has right knee soreness, won’t play final preseason game

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It’s the preseason, and so teams are trying to be extra cautious with their stars. That will apparently be the case this week as No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has reportedly not traveled with his New Orlean Pelicans for the final preseason game of the year against the New York Knicks.

Williamson has apparently strained his right knee, and his not heading to New York with the team isn’t looking like it’s just for rest as the regular season approaches. Williamson may actually have a bit of soreness working against him right now, which is the last thing any NBA fans want to hear right now.

Via Twitter:

The release from the Pelicans says that Williamson remained in Louisiana to undergo further testing on his right knee.

Hopefully this is nothing serious and the season can get off to a thrilling start. It certainly looks to be headed in that direction based off of how Williamson has performed already in preseason action.

New Orleans kicks off the regular season on Oct. 22 against the defending champion Toronto Raptors in Ontario.

Michael Jordan opens first of 2 medical clinics in Charlotte

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — An emotional Michael Jordan unveiled the first of two medical clinics he and his family funded in Charlotte, North Carolina that will provide care to underprivileged members of the community.

The six-time NBA champion and Hornets owner was on hand Thursday for the grand opening of the $7 million Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic. Tears streamed down Jordan’s cheeks as he said, “this is a very emotional thing for me to be able to give back to a community that has supported me over the years.”

The clinic, located in a lower-income section of the city, will provide vital access to primary and preventive care to individuals in the community, including those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Jordan vowed to do more, saying “this is just the start of a battle of being able to touch as many people as we can.”

Jordan first announced the $7 million gift in 2017.

Andrew Wiggins doesn’t agree with people who don’t rank him very high

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This season, his sixth, is going to be the season where Andrew Wiggins looks and plays like he loves the game. His steadily-declining shooting percentages are going to rocket back up. He’s going to break out as an elite player who should have gone No. 1, and not just a guy who gets empty-calorie points.

That’s what Wiggins is thinking, anyway.

ESPN put out its list of top 100 players in the league and very reasonably did not have Wiggins on it, despite him scoring 18.1 points per game last season. In an excellent job of trying to create a second story out of the 100 list by asking about the “snub,” Wiggins said he isn’t worried about what people say about the four-years, $122 million still on his contract, but he wants to re-establish himself, he told Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“Everyone is counting pockets. Some people are mad about [it], some people are happy for you,” Wiggins told ESPN. “That’s how the world goes, especially when you’ve got something they don’t have or do something they don’t do. That’s how the world goes.

“Even when I averaged almost 24 points and got the max deal, people were still saying stuff,” he added. “Look at max players and some max players don’t average as much, but it is what it is. I’m just trying to get right, get back on track.”

If you just shrugged your shoulders, join the rest of the league.

Most Timberwolves fans have moved on from counting Wiggins as the second star to help out Karl-Anthony Towns. Most front office people on other teams have moved on as well, as evidenced by Wiggins’ nonexistent trade value (sources around the league say Minnesota has tested the market only to find no team that wants that contract unless the Timberwolves throw in sweeteners). 

Minnesota’s new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said Wiggins has to be a ‘main contributor’ if the Timberwolves are going to return to the playoffs. Which is one reason most experts have them missing out.

But Wiggins believes in himself. Timberwolves fans should expect and want nothing less than that, they just may not want to get their own expectations too high.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse shreds Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson

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The Raptors no longer have championship-level talent.

They still have championship-level expectations for effort and attention to detail.

Newcomers Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson are learning that the hard way.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

That is HARSH.

But the last time he was coaching, Nick Nurse was overseeing a dominant defense deep in the playoffs. It must be a dramatic adjustment going to preseason intensity and sans Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Nurse might also be trying to motivate Hollis-Jefferson and Johnson, who have the tools to be more effective.

This aren’t new issue for these forwards, though. They were available so cheap for a reason.