Kawhi and George Make Clippers Favorite to Win 2020 Title
Kawhi Leonard’s free agency was full of rumors, speculation and unknowns. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the most under-wrapped decision from a max free agent in recent memory ended in total shock, with news dropping early Saturday morning around 2 AM that Leonard had decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers.
Free agent forward Kawhi Leonard has informed runners-up teams of his plans: He's signing with the Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Leonard’s decision to spurn both the Raptors, the team he won a historic championship with less than a month ago, and the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, would be breaking news in its own right
But his pact with the Clippers included a significant trade that was also reported Saturday, that All-Star Paul George was being sent to the Clippers for a package of players and draft picks from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City is trading All-Star Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers for a record-setting collection of draft choices, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
With Leonard and George leading the way, the Clippers immediately become the favorites to win the 2020 title at +275.
The Clippers' moves clearly came as a total surprise to oddsmakers, who in recent days had pegged the Lakers as +250 favorites and had shortened the Raptors’ title odds from +1500 to +700 because of the possibility of Leonard staying in Toronto.
The Clippers’ odds, meanwhile, were as large as +2000 in the days leading up to the trade. Now, they’re the team to beat not only in a wide open West, but in a wide open NBA.
Here's a full list of the NBA title odds for 2020.
Clippers are Loaded with Kawhi, George
There’s so much to dissect with Saturday morning’s trade, but let’s start with this: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the Clippers’ core is built to win a title.
Los Angeles had to ship off promising rookie Shai Gelgeous-Alexander and cap-heavy forward Danilo Gallinari in the deal, but this is a team that won 48 games a year ago and now adds an MVP candidate in George and the reigning Finals MVP in Leonard.
Prior to this mega-trade, they also re-signed defensive whiz Patrick Beverley and were part of the four-team Jimmy Butler trade in acquiring Moe Harkless.
They were quietly building up their core from a team that overachieved the previous season after trading Tobias Harris, and now have one of the best top-to-bottom rosters in the NBA.
On top of Leonard, George and Beverley, they also tout Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams who was found to be immediately celebrating the big news with Beverley.
The Clippers also got the runner-up to Williams in that category, power forward Montrezl Harrell. On top of that, they have the core they received in exchange for Harris at the trade deadline like sharpshooter Landry Shamet. The Clippers are top-heavy but also have plenty of complementary talent.
Lakers Tout NBA’s Best Big 3
Saturday’s news certainly came as a shock to the Lakers, who were favorites to win the 2020 title on the assumption that they would nab Leonard in free agency. They’re now on to Plan B, and they struck quickly on Saturday in agreeing to a deal with Leonard’s former teammate, sharpshooter Danny Green.
The Lakers still have significant cap space to use, and while many of the top names are off the board they’re still an attractive destination as contenders in the West led by James and Davis.
Though most of the big names are off the board, the Lakers’ free agency is just beginning as they look to fill our their roster around James and Davis. They’re still contenders in the West because of their star power upfront.
Raptors Can Still Contend in East
The Raptors’ 2020 title odds took a massive hit with Leonard choosing the Clippers, but let’s not discount the defending champs. They’ve still got Kyle Lowry, Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and a host of role players that helped them to the 2019 NBA championship.
They also have some cap space left over to use in the wake of Leonard signing elsewhere. Their title odds took a massive hit but this is still a loaded team with championship experience, a talented head coach, and cap space.
Also, for what it’s worth, Leonard leaves the East and heads to the West, which makes the Raptors’ path back to the Finals a tad bit easier.
About the Author
Mark Strotman is a veteran sports journalist who has covered the Chicago Bulls and the NBA for NBC Sports Chicago since 2012. His work has also appeared on ESPN.com, FoxSports.com, The Chicago Tribune, Yahoo Sports and NBC Sports. He covered the NBA Playoffs in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 as well as Team USA Basketball in 2014 and 2016. He has also covered high school football and was nominated for a Midwest Emmy in 2016 for his work on a documentary featuring local Chicago product and NFL prospect Miles Boykin. Strotman graduated from Marquette University in 2012 and during his time there reported on the men’s basketball team, covering both the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament in 2011 and 2012.