Trevor Ariza

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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.

Lakers move fast to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee

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Kawhi Leonard taking his time to come to a decision — it was less than six days, remember LeBron’s “The Decision” was July 8, but free agency moved a lot faster this year — hurt the Lakers more than any other of the teams in the mix for Leonard.

The Lakers had two top-seven NBA stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but now rather than add a third star the Lakers were scrambling early Saturday morning to round out their roster. A lot of the players they might have targeted — J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, Terrence Ross, even bringing back D'Angelo Russell, just to name a few — were off the table.

The Lakers moved fast to get Danny Green but paid a lot to get him at two-years, $30 million. Then they moved to bring back Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Last season McGee started 62 games for the Lakers and averaged 12 points and 7.5 rebounds a game, with an efficient True Shooting percentage of 63.4. While Davis is far and away the best center on the Laker roster, he prefers to play as a four next to a more traditional five, which means McGee likely starts at center this season for the Lakers. (As a side note, this is where the Ivica Zubac trade last season hurts the Lakers even more.)

Caldwell-Pope averaged 11.4 points per game and shot 34.7 percent from three, plus he played solid defense. He was overpaid and certainly was brought in originally (two seasons ago) in part because he was a Rich Paul client (the agent of LeBron and Davis), but he has played solidly for them. This contract is at a reasonable rate, close to the league average.

The Lakers made decent moves to start rounding out their roster without Leonard, as much as could be expected with where the market stood on July 6. However, the fits are not going to be ideal at this point and it’s going to take adjusting throughout the season as well (both with trades and grabbing guys off waivers from other teams who fit).

 

Kawhi Leonard signing with Clippers; Paul George joining him in massive trade with Thunder

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The Raptors were confident. The Lakers were reportedly confident.

But in the end, the Clippers’ year-long pursuit of Kawhi Leonard paid off.

This was put up quickly on the Kawhi Leonard official fan Instagram page, which is tied to Leonard.

The Clippers seemed to be a longshot in recent days because it was reported Leonard wanted to play with another superstar and Doc Rivers’ crew didn’t have one and didn’t seem to have a line on one in the near future.

Enter the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are sending Paul George to the Clippers for a massive package of players and picks, something broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

George had become disillusioned playing next to Russell Westbrook and how far that team, as constructed, could go in a deep West. His agent reportedly asked for a trade in recent days, and the Clippers took advantage of that opportunity.

The Thunder made more than the best of a difficult situation, they got a haul.

The Clippers become a top title contender in what looks like a wide-open league. The offseason has dispersed talent, leaving several teams in the championship chase.

As he showed with Toronto, Leonard can singlehandedly lift a good team to greatness, and now he has the partner he wanted (one that can form an impressive defensive tandem. The Clippers established credibility with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Now, they look poised to take the next step with the powerhouses that are Leonard and George, with roster depth that includes Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and others.

The Raptors and Lakers will be left with harder choices.

By leaving the Raptors, Leonard makes history. Superstars had never left the defending champion for another team. But Toronto should, and likely will, just be thankful he delivered a title in his lone year there.

The Raptors now appear extremely unlikely to repeat. But in the championship afterglow, they could go multiple directions. They could remain a solid playoff team with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol. Or Toronto could trade those vets and start a rebuild around Siakam.

The Lakers must now find role players around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. There’s a lot of pressure on general manager Rob Pelinka after last year’s front office – led by Magic Johnson with Pelinka as top lieutenant – flopped in its role-player signings. The task could easily make the difference between the Lakers winning and losing a title.

The challenge for the Lakers is heightened because a lot of the top role players the Lakers had targeted — J.J. Redick, Trevor Ariza, etc. — are off the board, having signed with other teams. There are players such as Danny Green, who has agreed to sign with the Lakers, plus players such as Marcus Morris, Rajon Rondo may return, but the pickings are much slimmer than they were five days ago.

As Los Angeles’ most popular team, the Lakers will remain in the spotlight. But the Clippers showed their credibility by completing their all-in push for Leonard with a commitment.

Now, they’ll look to get the championship payoff.

Report: Kings signing Richaun Holmes for room exception

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The Kings have used their considerable cap space to add plenty of depthHarrison Barnes, Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph.

With that cap room essentially exhausted, Sacramento will use its room exception for one more rotation-level player – Richaun Holmes

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Sacramento can pay Holmes $9,772,350 with the room exception ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season).

Holmes is an energy big who will provide depth with Willie-Cauley Stein almost certainly departing. The Kings pulled Cauley-Stein’s qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Sacramento has plenty of options at center now – Dedmon, Holmes, Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles. Bagley will get plenty of minutes at power forward, but he might play center long-term. It’ll be important to get him reps there, especially defensively. His upside is immense and the Kings obviously care about developing him.

But winning is also important, and 25-year-old Holmes is ready to help with that.

Ten things learned on wildest day in NBA history

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Insane.

Sunday ended up being the wildest, most frenzied day in NBA history — 48 contracts and $3.1 billion worth of frenzied. Seriously, that is how much money was agreed to in one eight-hour window on Sunday. And that is with a big contract or two left hanging out there.

It was too much to absorb, but after taking a deep breath, here are the 10 things we learned on the first day of NBA Free Agency

1) Kevin Durant wanted to play with his friends more than anything and with that Brooklyn thought it won the day…

Who is the King of New York now?

All season long Durant was linked to the Knicks — some around the league thought it was a done deal — and midway through the year suddenly Kyrie Irving was in the same rumors and joining the same party.

Then Brooklyn swooped in and got them both. The Brooklyn Nets — the team that had the worst record in the league two years ago — landed Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Let that sink in. It wasn’t about chasing more rings with the Warriors or moving to the biggest brand in the biggest market, it was Durant and Irving going where they wanted so they could play together as friends.

Speaking of friends, Durant and Irving both took slightly less than the max so the Nets could drastically overpay Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan (four years, $40 million).

Durant likely doesn’t play next year coming off a torn Achilles, but the Nets will still have a playoff team. We’ll see if Jordan ends up taking minutes away from up-and-coming Jarrett Allen. He shouldn’t, but politics sometimes win out in these things.

In a couple of years, the Nets could be a contender out of the East.

2) …But then Jimmy Butler was signed-and-traded to Miami, and Philadelphia’s day of moves made it the East favorite.

When the first reports of Jimmy Butler wanting to go to Miami came up, it was greeted with a lot of “how are they going to make that work?” Giving up the talented Josh Richardson is how. Miami and Philadelphia worked out a sign-and-trade that shook the league (but they need a third team, ideally to take on Goran Dragic, to make it all work out. They are expected to be able to iron that out).

Miami gets a star they have coveted and who is a great cultural fit in Butler. There is still a lot of roster building to do in South Beach but Butler, Justise Winslow, and Bam Adebayo is an excellent place to start.

Philadelphia replaces Butler with Josh Richardson — not as good, but not dramatically worse, younger, and cheaper — and that was just one of the smart moves they made on Sunday. They retained Tobias Harris on a max $141 million contract. Then they signed Al Horford as a free agent to a four-year, $109 million contract.

The Sixers’ starting five is now Ben Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, and Joel Embiid. That is the best starting five in the East and keeps them in the mix as serious title contenders. Add a little depth — they also retained Mike Scott — and the Sixers will be tough to beat.

3) Golden State kept Klay Thompson and added D’Angelo Russell, but had to let Andre Iguodala go. That team is interesting.

The award for “least surprising thing to happen when free agency opened” goes to Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors, who reached the expected five-year, $190 million max contract extension. Without any drama.

The Warriors were saving the drama for a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets that brings D’Angelo Russell to Golden State on a max four-year, $117 million contract. Russell, a pick-and-roll, ball dominant point guard is an interesting fit next to Stephen Curry, but it gives the Warriors another talented player as they try to adapt to Kevin Durant’s departure and Thompson missing most of the season due to his ACL injury. Curry, Russell, and Draymond Green should be able to get the Warriors to the playoffs (and Russell is a good trade asset if the Warriors decide to go that route).

That sign-and-trade for Russell will ultimately send Iguodala to Memphis to make room under the cap. That move is a punch to the gut for the players on that team. Iguodala is an admired leader.

(By the way, now the real drama is Green’s contract next summer. Will the Warriors give him the full max of five-years, $204? Will Green take the four-years, $157 another team can offer? He doesn’t fit everywhere, he fits the Warriors, but do they want to pay him that kind of money.)

4) Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard is taking his time, leaving Lakers/Raptors/Clippers dangling on the hook.

While everyone else was moving at light speed on Sunday, Kawhi Leonard was laying low. He met with no teams. He will get to that over the coming days and then make his decision. Good for him, don’t rush the big decisions.

But it’s bad news for the Lakers and Clippers (and Raptors, to a lesser degree). The Lakers and Clippers both have bet big on landing Leonard at this point, and both have had to sit on their hands and keep a max cap slot open as free agents are being snapped up around them. For the Lakers in particular, if they don’t get Leonard, other max players like Jimmy Butler are gone, and some of the role players they would have wanted (J.J. Redick, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, for example) are off the board, making it harder to fill out the roster around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

5) Major League Baseball is stupid.

Did you know the MLB All-Star Game players were announced today — at 6 p.m. Eastern. The exact time that the frenzy of NBA free agency started and dominated the sports media.

The MLB runs its entire league like it’s the Knicks.

6) Utah has had a really impressive offseason.

Utah is a legitimate threat to come out of the West next season. The Jazz won 50 games last season and addressed the offensive weaknesses that have hurt them in the playoffs this summer. Utah made a massive upgrade from Ricky Rubio (now in Phoenix) to Mike Conley at the point guard spot. Then on Sunday, they added a lot more shooting to the mix in the 6’8” form of Bojan Bogdanovic — the kind of player a lot of casual fans don’t know but who has his own fans in front offices around the NBA for a reason. He averaged 18 points a game last season for the Pacers and is a great floor spacer to open up room on Donovan Mitchell (and Conley) drives.

To get Bogdanovic, the Jazz had to give up fan favorite Derrick Favors (and his $16.9 million contract), but then they did a nice job replacing a big chunk of his grit and production with veteran, solid big man Ed Daivs (and for two-years, $5 million). Favors is off to New Orleans.

Utah’s starting five next season is probably Conley, Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert. With a solid bench behind them. That team is going to win a lot of games and be a postseason problem.

7) Dallas just paid Kristaps Prozingis a lot of money coming off a torn ACL.

The Mavericks really made this bet back at the trade deadline, but on Sunday they made it official by agreeing to a five-year, $158 million extension with Porzingis.

The bet is Porzingis can bounce back from his torn ACL to be an All-NBA level big man who plays 70+ games a season. Porzingis has the tools, he is a 7’3″ unicorn who can defend inside, knock down threes, and has averaged 17.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game while shooting 36.1 percent from three. Mark Cuban dreams that Porzingis and Luka Doncic become Dallas’ new Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki pairing.

Dallas also locked up Dwight Powell with a new deal, as they should have.

8) James Dolan and the Knicks continue to find ways to embarrass themselves.

All season long, around the league the Knicks were seen as the frontrunner to land Kevin Durant, and he was going to bring another star player with him. Some league sources had it in an “as long as they don’t blow it” kind of place. Dolan went on the radio in New York and said, “New York is the mecca of basketball… From what we’ve heard, I think we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agency.”

Well, Dolan blew it.

And the cross-town Brooklyn Nets swooped in and got both Durant and Irving — and Brooklyn looks like it will be the better team for a while.

Knicks gonna Knicks.

But they did land Julius Randle, which is a quality pickup fans will love. Not like Durant love, but Randle plays hard and is fun to watch.

9) Portland pays Damian Lillard like they should, hang on to Rodney Hood, also.

If Klay Thompson re-signing was the most obvious thing ever, the Trail Blazers giving Lillard a full max — five years, $195 million — was next on the list.

Lillard is an All-Star, an All-NBA player, a clutch player and one of the best guards in the NBA. More than that, Lillard is flat out one of the best guys in the league, great in the community, and loved by Portland. This was a no-brainer.

The Blazers also retained Rodney Hood, and combine that with the addition of Kent Bazemore and a healthy Jusuf Nurkic at some point next season, and this team is going to be better than this year’s squad.

10) Both Lopez brothers in Milwaukee? Robin Lopez signs with Bucks (and they re-signed Khris Middleton).

Let’s not bury the lead here — the Milwaukee Bucks maxed out and retained All-Star Khris Middleton at the wing, on a five-year, $178 million max offer sheet. Is that overpaying a little for Middleton? Yes. But they had to. He’s an All-Star who averaged 18.3 points per game last season, and he fits well with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Who they have to keep happy. So the deal gets done.

In another must-make move, the Bucks re-signed Brook Lopez at four-years, $52 million. They needed his shooting. Brook’s backup is now his brother Robin Lopez, who signed on in Milwaukee. That’s good news for everyone… who is not a mascot.