Doc Rivers is a big winner on Saturday morning after the revelation that his Los Angeles Clippers have signed Kawhi Leonard and agreed to a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder for All-NBA forward Paul George.
In one fatal swoop, Rivers and the Clippers went from a team in possession of a ton of young talent but without any real ability to contend for an NBA championship to the favorites to win a title.
First and foremost, it is important to recognize how we got here.
For the past week, Leonard and his team have jerked around the entire league with indications that they had interest in signing with the Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers or Toronto Raptors. The pros and cons of each potential option were obvious.
The Clippers offered all of the perks of living in LA with none of the drawbacks that have come to be associated with the Lakers. Namely, dealing with a dysfunctional front office, oversized expectations and the sometimes-difficult ego of LeBron James. Add in the fact that Anthony Davis has shown an inability to stay healthy over the course of his career, and you have a recipe for either extreme success or extreme failure – nothing in between.
The Raptors offered a return to last year’s NBA champion squad that provided Leonard with about everything and anything he could possibly hope for. They paired him with excellent role players, managed his playing time in a way that would preserve his health and traded a ton of solid pieces to acquire him showing just how dedicated they were to him.
The Lakers, despite all their faults, are the NBA’s marquee franchise. They are arguably the most attractive destination in all of basketball thanks to their unique mix of history and locale. Even though James can be a handful and Davis is a bit injury prone, they still boast one of the most impressive one-two combos in the NBA in the pair.
When it was all said and done, Leonard decided that the Clippers possessed the best mix of locale and low key expectations – but he didn’t want to come to the squad alone. According to reports, he convinced George to demand a trade out of the Oklahoma City Thunder and to the Clippers, a team he had admired since childhood.
George, ever the good soldier, did as he was told and asked OKC to move him. Rather than face the sort of situation the New Orleans Pelicans faced with a disgruntled Davis, the situation that cost them a ton of trade value when the time came to move him, OKC opted to move George for a pretty significant haul.
Essentially, the Thunder got second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to go with the bevy of draft picks. The picks include: the Clippers’ unprotected 2022, 2024 and 2026 picks, their unprotected 2021 and protected 2023 first-round picks via Miami, and the rights to swap picks with the Clippers in 2023 and 2025.
In return for that, the Clippers receive both Leonard and George.
So who is the big winner here? You could obviously make a case for George, who originally wanted to be in LA but instead somehow got himself stuck playing next to Russell Westbrook in OKC. Similarly, you can make a case for the entire Clippers organization, who went from afterthought to favorites to win the NBA title.
However, the real answer appeals to be Clippers head coach, Rivers. What his organization pulled off last night is reminiscent of what the Boston Celtics did when they brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce. That team ultimately went on to win a title.
It is easy to forget, Rivers was on the ropes with the Clippers a few years ago. Boasting squad of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, they consistently underachieved and failed to make any significant progress in the Western Conference. When that team was blown up, many expected Rivers would be gone sooner rather than later.
Rivers fought back against that idea with an impressive campaign with a young Clippers team that many thought should have earned him a Coach of the Year nod. He didn’t end up getting that award, but he may have gotten something better thanks to his quality coaching performance last year: the best shot he has had in years at winning another NBA title.