Nothing gained, nothing lost
IT was a detour all right – from one Los Angeles team to another – Lakers to Clippers, co-tenants at the Staples Center, which is a big winner in the Kawhi Anthony Leonard signing drama with expected 82-game sellouts – at the very least – during the 2019-20 NBA season featuring LeBron Raymone James and Anthony Marshon Davis Jr. on the Lakers side and Kawhi Anthony Leonard and Paul Clifton Anthony George, a same-day (July 5, July 6 Manila Time) trade acquisition from Oklahoma City, on the Clippers side.
The Clippers pre-empted a Leonard move to the Lakers by aggressively going after a second star upon the request of Leonard, a 2018-19 second-team All-NBA pick.
Leonard’s original preference for a partnership was Kevin Durant but KD hooked up with the Brooklyn Nets instead. He then settled on All-Star forward Paul George, a first-team All-NBA selection with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the third-leading vote-getter in the 2018-19 Most Valuable Player race in his second season with the team.
The Thunder, it turned out, also wanted a piece of the action. Unable to reconcile the differences between George and the club’s top gun Russell Westbrook due to the 6-foot-3 guard’s ball hogging and triple-double, stats-padding propensities (Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in points, rebounds and assists in each of the last three seasons).
OKC attempted to trade both George and Westbrook to reigning NBA champion Toronto in exchange for Leonard and 2019 NBA Most Improved Player awardee Pascal Siakam. The Raptors turned down the Thunder.
It was then that LA Clippers came into the picture. To accommodate Leonard, the Clippers gave up 6-foot-8, 30-year-old frontliner Danilo Gallinari from Italy and 6-foot-6 point guard Shaivonte Gilgeous-Alexander from Canada, an incoming pro sophomore who was named to the 2019 NBA All-Rookie Second Team and turns just 21 on July 12, and a boatload of first-round draft choices – five all in all – their unprotected picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026, their unprotected pick in 2021 and protected pick in 2023 via the Miami Heat plus the rights to swap first-rounders with the Thunder in 2023 and 2025 to acquire George, a California native, and his $33-million cap hit.
It was understandable that Leonard would want to play with the Clippers rather than the Lakers if his hometown Los Angeles was his real destination all along.
With the Lakers, Leonard can only be the third wheel after James and Davis.
With the Clippers, Leonard will remain the top honcho – the same role he played while leading the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA title last month.
A stoic Leonard, with silent waters running deep, was wiser than most Lakers fans think. He knows where he is coming from. He knows that a four-year, $142-million deal with the Clippers carries less pressure and that is all him to take.
Thank you for tickling the Lakers faithful, Leonard. Anyway, there really was nothing between us. Nothing was gained but nothing was lost either.
See you at the Staples Center.
* * *
If it’s any consolation to the Lakers Nation, three-point marksman Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard’s teammate at Toronto, knew where he was headed to in free agency right after the NBA Finals MVP took his bags to Los Angeles with the Clippers.
Green, who along with Leonard owns a pair of title rings (the first came in 2014 while both were with San Antonio), agreed to join the Lakers on a two-year, $30 million deal.
The Lakers seemingly overpaid Green but the team had so much salary cap room – $32 million – after clearing everything on the kitchen sink to accommodate Davis’ entry and acquire another prominent player on the open market (Leonard in mind) on a maximum contract.
Money now is being spread all around to complete a 15-man roster for the 2019-20 NBA season.
So far, the Lakers already have 12 men on their roster.
A full day after the Leonard rejection, the team reached an agreement with free-agent center DeMarcus Amir Cousins on a one-year, $3.5-milion deal.
It also is bringing back 6-foot-1, 33-year-old playmaker Rajon Pierre Rondo, a 13-year veteran who earned a title rings with the Boston Celtics in 2008, for a second season in Hollywood City on a two-year, $2.6-million deal with a player option for the second year and their own restricted free agent Alex Caruso, a 6-foot-4, 25-year-old guard with a two-year NBA experience with the Lakers, on a two-year, $5.5-million deal.
A combustive 6-foot-11, 28-year-old center with nine years’ experience, Cousins drew considerable interest from the Heat despite his various injuries in the past two seasons. It was Davis who helped convince “Boogie” to join the Lakers. The Twin Towers were teammates for 1.5 seasons with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Rondo, Cousins and Anthony Davis were once teammates with the Pelicans (2017-18). All three are products of the University of Kentucky but were Wildcats at different times.
The Lakers now have acquired three point guards in free agency – Rondo, Caruso and Quinn Alexander Cook, who agreed to a two-year, $2.6-million deal to remain in the West.
A three-year vet, the 6-foot-1 Cook comes with an NBA championship pedigree, having won a ring in 2018 in his first of two seasons with the Golden State Warriors.
The Lakers are getting back another serviceable center in 7-foot, 31-year-old JaVale Lindy McGee, an 11-year vet with a pair of titles with the Warriors in 2017 and 2018 under his belt.
McGee will be returning with a two-year, $8.2-million deal that carries a player option in the second year. An unrestricted free agent like McGee, streaky 6-foot-5 shooting guard Kentavious Tannell Caldwell-Pope, a client of sports agent Rich Paul at Klutch Sports Group along with teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis, was able to extract a two-year, $16-million agreement. The 26-year-old Caldwell-Pope, a six-year vet, has played in Tinseltown for the past two seasons.
Much earlier, three or four days before Leonard rejected their advances, the Lakers picked up a pair of second-tier players in NBA free agency in 6-foot-4 shooting guard Troy Daniels (Phoenix) and 6-foot-7 forward Jared Dudley (Brooklyn). Daniels, a six-year vet who turns 28 on July 15, inked a one-year, $2.1 million deal after toiling with the Phoenix Suns for the past two seasons. A 12-year pro who was an irritant to the Philadelphia 76ers during their first-round playoff series victory over the Nets with his physical and loudmouth ways, the 34-year-old Dudley inked a one-year, $2.6-million deal following a lone season in Brooklyn.
Add James, Davis and Kuzma and the Lakers now have a dozen players on their roster. The team, to be mentored by first-year Lakers head coach Frank Vogel and assisted on the bench by former championship players Jason Kidd (2011 with Dallas) and Lionel Hollins (1977 with Philadelphia), is still awaiting the signature of 2019 second-round draft selection (No. 46 overall) of Talen Horton-Tucker, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard out of Iowa State.
NBA teams are allowed to have 15 players on their roster with 12 to play in a game.
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