The LA Clippers’ incredible moves to bring in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will affect the Utah Jazz and shake the Western Conference as a whole.
After putting together one heck of an offseason, there were several NBA experts that were quick to say that as things currently stood, the Utah Jazz were legitimate title contenders. Some even went as far as to say that they could be the best team in the West in 2019-20.
However, to truly know how the landscape was going to play out, we had to know where one player was going – Kawhi Leonard.
Originally, there was a lot of speculation that if he went to the Los Angeles Lakers to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, that team would ascend to the top of the conference, surpassing Utah and everyone else in one fell swoop. As such, many Jazz fans hoped that Kawhi wouldn’t land there and instead would either stay in Toronto or sign with the LA Clippers, who had failed to land any other stars in free agency.
I suppose the lesson to be learned here is to be careful what you wish for.
When the reports from The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Leonard would be signing with the Clippers first dropped, my initial reaction was euphoria. Yes, it would spring the Clippers into legitimate contention and, sure, the Lakers would still be exceptional with James and Davis, but in my mind adding Leonard to the nice but not mind-blowing pieces in Clipper-land didn’t put them over top of what the Jazz pulled off, in my mind.
Then, in a matter of seconds. Everything changed.
Woj followed up his first bomb with an absolute nuke by announcing that the Oklahoma City Thunder had also traded Paul George to the LA Clippers for a king’s ransom. That ransom included a historic number of picks – four unprotected firsts, a protected first and two pick swaps along with promising young player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and sharpshooter stretch-four Danilo Gallinari.
But, at least in the short-term, that reality pales in comparison to the fact that the Clippers just added Paul George. Paul freaking George. An MVP and DPOY candidate this past season to pair alongside Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Oh, and did we mention the Clippers still have reigning (perennial?) Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, defensive bulldog Patrick Beverley, second-year stud Landry Shamet and bench man extraordinaire Montrezl Harrell? Wow.
Talk about how difficult it will be to score on the three-headed monster that is Bev, PG and Klaw. Then how hard it will be to stop PG, Klaw and Sweet Lou offensively.
As well as the Jazz have done this offseason, it’s hard to not now argue that it is the Clippers who are indeed the true favorites in the West. And teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, who have bulked up, the Denver Nuggets, who should only improve, the Houston Rockets, who will remain daunting and the Golden State Warriors, who still shouldn’t be counted out, will be terrifying as well.
The West is going to be a dogfight. And the best part about it is, while you can try to presume what the power rankings are among each of the teams, it’s still about as wide open as it could get. The Clippers are going to be absolutely amazing next season, but the same could be said about the Utah Jazz after their improvements. Or about any of the other teams I just mentioned. The NBA is about as balanced as it’s been in a long, long time.
Which means the Jazz have still done absolutely the right thing by going all in this summer. They’ve gone about their business differently than other teams. Heck, they don’t even officially have a single All-Star on their roster. But they’ve still compiled a deadly and threatening team that is going to cause problems for every other squad – even star-studded ones like the Lakers and Clippers – all season long.
A new era of NBA basketball is officially upon us. And it’s one where the Jazz’s chances are as good as ever, even if the LA Clippers pulled off a shocking move that appears to have given them a slight edge for now. This upcoming season is very much a year where anything could happen in the Wild, Wild Western Conference.