Palawan, in a shocking move that nobody ever expected, Kawhi Leonard pulled a trick of his own committing to a long term deal with the Los Angeles Clippers while tugging fellow NBA all-star and two-way player Paul George along with him in a dizzying move of player trades that net an obviously stronger Clipper nation.
Apparently, Kawhi’s team has been having side discussions with George to convince him to move from the OKC Thunder before committing to joining the Doc Rivers coached Clips. Leonard’s heart has always been to work closer to home and family, being a San Diego native, so the stories since last season that he really intended to be a Clipper was true. Yes, he had talks with the Lakers and the Raptors, which he led to an NBA championship ring in June. Yes, he gave them the avenue to pitch their best to get him on board but at the end of the day, the coaching structure and executive leadership along with the appeal of living closer to home was what mattered the most…. but with a condition to include a fellow all-star.
Fast forward today and now we can see that the new look Clippers are deeper and can be contenders, heavy contenders, in the west.
They will miss Danilo Gallinari’s stretch 4 capabilities but the current team now assembles a blue-collar approach and can definitely perform well in both ends of the court.
Patrick Beverley at point, George and Leonard at the wings with Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac down low makes a formidable starting unit. The reserve core will be led by the sixth man of the year Lou Williams, Rodney McGruder, Landry Shammett and Moe Harkless. That’s a solid 9 man rotation that is playoff ready.
You will notice that this team is definitely not a pushover. All are capable and solid two-way players. Zubac just needs to stand in the middle and clean up the mess for whoever is able to break away from the defense of Beverley, Leonard or George. Harrell can defend the post against the best big man on every team in the league. If you worry about who can be the Clippers’ stopper for opponent’s best scorer, Leonard and George can alternate in that role. Both won’t back down defending a versatile wing player. They won’t get intimidated by Lebron James either.
I like the chances of this team put together by Lawrence Frank and of course with the influence of Jerry West and owner Steve Balmer. It is a “win now” model built to be strong for 2-3 years. They are banking that at least in one of the next 3 years, or maybe even 2, the Clips can bag a championship. They have a great coaching staff that pushed the team to the playoffs with a rugged team of second-tier players. Doc Rivers, to me, is a class of his own. Proven tactician, a players coach.
I also expect that Leonard and George’s minutes will be managed and even their workload throughout the duration of the regular season to keep them strong in the playoffs. A formula that worked well when Kawhi was in Toronto. A concept initiated a long time ago by the San Antonio Spurs is now a staple of any franchise wanting to win a crown. Will the Clippers win the west? Odds are high that they will reach at least the conference finals against either the Portland Trailblazers or the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that also won big with the partnering of the King and the Brow, Anthony Davis.
The west remains as strong as ever with the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz as early favorites to make the playoffs. The league balance shifted in favor of the west once more. The Golden State Warriors can’t be neglected either. It’s a wild western conference and with the way things are shaping up, whoever comes out the winner in the west will most likely be the favorites to win them all. The east has softened up a bit when Kawhi moved from the Raptors to L.A. That would leave the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers and potentially the Boston Celtics as top 3. The east looks shallower than the west but if Giannis Antetokounmpo improves his game a notch higher over the summer, then there’s no stopping the Bucks making it to the finals.
This offseason moves balanced all competition with not a single team having a “big 3”. This is good for the league, best for the fans. I personally am excited to also see the new-look New Orleans Pelicans in action. They are a team to watch this season.
Can’t wait for the curtain raiders in October, Palawan!
(The writer is a senior leader in the Business Process Outsourcing industry managing Philippine countryside operations)