The Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes have concluded with the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors departing empty-handed.
According to Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, Kawhi Leonard has agreed to a four -year deal worth $142 million with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The deal, following a 7.2 earthquake on the San Andreas fault, sent shock waves not only throughout California but also the NBA.
The aftermath of Leonard signing with the Clippers left all three teams in different position, some better than others.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Kawhi Leonard was not going to join the Los Angeles Clippers without an all-star caliber teammate, however, that became a reality on Friday evening after the Clippers acquired Paul George in a blockbuster trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Clippers sacrificed arguably the largest package of assets in NBA history by trading four unprotected first-round picks, one protected first-round pick, two future pick swaps, Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Clippers can now pair two of the best two-way players in the NBA with George and Leonard.
The Clippers offer George and Leonard a deep supporting cast led by reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams. Alongside Williams, the Clippers have Ivica Zubac, Landry Shamet, and Jerome Robinson, who have already proven to be productive contributors early on in their careers.
The Clippers can fill out their roster with minimum contracts and buy-out players, while immediately becoming serious title contenders. With the George trade, the Clippers are able to provide Leonard with everything he wants moving forward, prompting him to sign a four-year max contract.
Los Angeles Lakers:
The Lakers currently have $32M in cap space and will need to act quickly when filling out the rest of their roster with free agents. While the team has already signed Danny Green, Quin Cook, DeMarcus Cousins and brought back Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee, expect the Lakers to consider giving short-term contracts to veteran players with playoff experience like Marcus Morris and Kyle Korver.
The Lakers desperately need a point guard and will likely be valuing three-point shooting after the team’s struggles last season from beyond the arch. Adding depth to a roster that features LeBron James and Anthony Davis is important, and the Lakers would have been limited in the players that they could sign if they were to have won the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes.
Without Leonard, the Lakers need to prioritize depth over signing one or two starters. This year it became as clear as ever that teams that are top-heavy in talent, like the Warriors, sacrifice needed depth in their roster and are not prepared to face team’s with depth, like the Raptors.
The Lakers must surround LeBron James and Anthony Davis with quality role players with high basketball IQ’s and with playoff experience. The Lakers are no longer a team that will be stuck in the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Instead, the Lakers will begin the season with high expectations and must make the correct free agent signings to assemble a roster that will be ready to compete next May.
The defending champions have to make a decision. Will they continue to try and build around their current roster and defend their title? Or are the Raptors better off hitting the reset button and trading their assets to begin the rebuilding process in Toronto?
Regardless of their decision, it’s extremely unlikely that the Raptors will have the opportunity to defend their title next season. The Raptors can still focus on building around the NBA’s Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam while competing for a top seed in the east with veterans Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol.
Without Leonard, the Raptors must remain calm and avoid making an irrational signing in the attempt to replace the production of Leonard next season. Instead, expect general manager Masai Ujiri to continue to explore opportunities to improve his roster and keep the franchise competitive moving forward.
However, don’t be surprised if Ujiri elects to move on from Lowry and Gasol and attempt to acquire all of the assets possible by trading the two former all-stars. The most important thing is that Raptors fans acknowledge that last season’s championship team featured much more than just Leonard. For without the Raptors deep supporting cast, it’s highly unlikely that the team even defeats the Sixers in the second round of the playoffs.
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