After a week of waiting that felt like months, Kawhi Leonard picked his new team. Rumors floated everywhere on social media, but nobody predicted that he would be able to recruit Paul George to join him in Los Angeles on the Clippers. With free agency mostly wrapped up, I am looking at how the big news from over the weekend has impacted title odds.
Note: All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
LOS ANGLES CLIPPERS (+275)At the start of free agency, we knew the choices for Kawhi came down to the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers. Even though the Clippers were thought of as his most likely destination during the season, there wasn’t much noise about him signing with the Clips during last week’s #KawhiWatch. It was a week that included a rumored meeting with Magic Johnson, who no longer works for the Lakers and tracking a plane flight to Canada. If he truly wanted to go to the place with the least fanfare and leaks then it isn’t all that shocking to see him end up with the Clippers in hindsight.
The lynchpin of bringing Kawhi to the lesser heralded Los Angeles team was bringing in another superstar. After Leonard convinced Paul George to team up, PG requested a trade from the Thunder and they moved quickly. The Clippers gave up a tremendous amount of assets to get PG-13 although we can also consider Kawhi to be part of their additions since it sealed his signing and he wasn’t coming without the trade.
Giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and five first-round picks could hurt in the future, but it won’t have much of an impact this upcoming season. The Clippers are coming off a 48-win season and pushed the Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs. They have improved substantially and are the rightful favorites to win the NBA Championship. Not only are they loaded with star power, but this team also has a good deal of depth with Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Motrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac all returning.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (+375)With anticipation that Leonard would join Anthony Davis and LeBron James to form a super team with the Lakers, their odds dropped to +130 to win the title prior to news coming out that Kawhi was heading to the Clippers. The Lakers’ title odds dipped, but fans shouldn’t feel dejected. They are still the second title favorite in the NBA and we are going to have a great rivalry between the LA teams going forward.
The Kawhi Leonard situation hurt the Lakers in more than just the obvious — not signing him. Free agents came off the board quickly and by the time of the decision, the Lakers weren’t left with many great options. They overpaid for Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope as they needed to fill the roster with some depth. Of all the additions, my favorite was the low-risk, high-reward signing of DeMarcus Cousins. Coming off a torn Achilles, he struggled at times last season. It’s unlikely he will ever return to his pre-injury form, however, this doesn’t mean he can’t end up evolving his game and becoming productive. Boogie signed for barely more than the minimum, representing a good gamble by the Lakers. In a worst case scenario where he struggles and causes turmoil, he can easily be released similar to how the Rockets handled Carmelo Anthony. The best case scenario is they have landed an All-Star caliber player for cheap.
After missing out on Kawhi, I think the odds are slightly overrating the chances of the Lakers winning the championship. There isn’t much depth on this team and an injury to either AD or LeBron would be a catastrophe. If both are healthy then the odds are fair, but the injury risk is high. Fans are going to hold their breathe every time we see the inevitable Anthony Davis is heading to the locker room tweets. I don’t think he’s quite as fragile as people make him out to be, but he’s certainly an injury risk. Prior to playing in 56 games last season, Davis played 75 games in back-to-back seasons. Even though LeBron has been indestructible for most of his career, he turns 35 this season and is coming off a career-low 55 games. At his age, there is always a risk of a slight performance drop off. The injury risks combined with a lack of depth make the Lakers risky to bet at their current odds.
TORONTO RAPTORS (+3500)/OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (+7000)The direction of these teams took a quick turn over the weekend. Neither have a realistic chance to win the title and both could feature weaker rosters by the time to start the season. I still view the Raptors as a playoff team this season and they are set up fairly well for the future with a young stud in Pascal Siakam. The question becomes if they will move Kyle Lowry to a contender to collect assets for the future. If this is the case, then they could be on the outside of the playoff picture in the East. In games without Kawhi, the Raptors went 17-5 last season. The number is a bit inflated since he tended to rest in winnable games, but it’s still a sign that Toronto would completely fall apart.
On the other hand, the Thunder could really struggle without Paul George. It stands to reason that Russell Westbrook is on the trade block and moving him for future assets could mean this will be the worst team in the league. Even with Russ, I don’t expect OKC to make the playoffs. After missing the playoffs last season, the Lakers will have to take the spot of a playoff team and the Thunder appear the most likely candidates to slide out. Neither Oklahoma City nor Toronto are worth betting at long odds to win the title after losing All-Star players.
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