Five years ago…
The Clippers were embroiled in Donald Sterling’s scandal. There was talk of players boycotting. The whole franchise seemed toxic.
The Nets were entering years of pain. They’d traded several future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who promptly declined and left the team in the basement. Brooklyn looked hopeless.
Suddenly, the Clippers and Nets are the NBA’s freshest powers after major offseason coups. Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers and convinced Paul George to request a trade to accompany him. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined Brooklyn through free agency.
This level of star grouping in a single summer is unprecedented.
A team has added two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason just three times:
- 2019 Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
- 2019 Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
- 2014 Cavaliers: LeBron James and Kevin Love
The stories look similar in L.A. and Brooklyn this year.
Leonard wanted to return to his native Southern California, and he got George – another California native – to come along. Durant might resent the notion he was recruited, but playing near New Jersey is a homecoming for Irving. It seems Durant prioritized playing somewhere with Irving.
The big difference between this year’s situation and the Cavaliers in 2014: No incumbent star attracted Leonard, George, Durant and Irving to their new teams. Cleveland had Irving as a draw for LeBron and eventually Love.
The Clippers were starless. The Nets had no All-Star until D'Angelo Russell was named an injury replacement, and they weren’t keepinh him if landing Durant and Irving. (Russell got sent to the Warriors in a double sign-and-trade.)
That’s another way these situations are unprecedented.
Just eight teams have added multiple reigning All-Stars in the same offseason since the NBA-ABA merger. The preceding six already had an incumbent star who helped build the appeal:
*The Celtics traded Thomas for Irving, but Thomas was integral in recruiting Hayward in the first place.
**Pierce wasn’t an All-Star in 2007 due to an early injury, but he was an All-Star the five preceding and five following seasons and played like one while healthy later in 2006-07. Not counting him as a star in 2007 would be true only as a technicality.
Yet, Leonard and George chose to be the stars on the Clippers. Durant and Irving chose to be the stars on the Nets. They didn’t follow anyone already in place.
This is an unintended consequence of the shorter contracts owners pushed for. They give players more opportunities to change teams and value new situations like this. This is also a continuation of LeBron exercising his power, first by joining Wade and Bosh on the Heat then by closing up shop in Miami and forming a new super team in small-market Cleveland.
Maybe it can’t happen anywhere. It’s no coincidence the Clippers and Nets play in the two largest markets.
But the Lakers and Knicks are still the most prestigious franchises in Los Angeles and New York. The Clippers an Nets didn’t even win a playoff series or get one star first to lure others.
It’s a new era in the NBA – one where top talent is ready to come together and assert itself.
Wherever that may be.