Whicker: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George land with Clippers, make L.A. the NBA’s vortex

first_imgJust this once, Leonard had a chance to set the agenda, to find a Sundance Kid and ride with him. When Harris re-signed with Philly, the plan seemed doomed. But the Clippers kept playing for time. Thanks to those draft-pick acquisitions that seem like such faint footnotes at the time, they could give Oklahoma City a future and get their man as well. Remember, George, not Leonard, was a league MVP finalist this season.Expect the Staples Center garages to ask for an extra $20. Expect anyone who’s ever amassed 5 million clicks to gather at courtside. Don’t expect a Clippers-Lakers Western Conference finals, not with Portland, Denver and Utah around, but anticipate it.And let’s see if the Clippers can maintain the 155-game edge they’ve held over the Lakers the past six years. Amid all this re-positioning, and while the Lakers were dog-paddling in a septic tank, the Clippers missed the playoffs just once and never had a losing season.The Lakers will always have more banners. What we might see, more than once, are dueling parades. Suddenly the Lakers aren’t even the leading basketball brand in their own zip code.Suddenly the NBA’s Christmas Night menu has a main event for at least the next four years.Suddenly the Clippers’ plans for a new arena look perfectly logical and strategic.But the events that led to Friday Night Live, the late-evening announcement that Kawhi Leonard is coming to the Clippers and bringing Paul George with him, were not sudden at all. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error The Clippers have the impossibly rich and undeniably supportive Steve Ballmer as their owner, a shoot-for-Mars thinker who has assembled an actual basketball staff. West, General Manager Michael Winger and basketball ops director Lawrence Frank tore down a high-50-win team with clashing personalities and slow basketball movement, found underrated players with a Navy Seal mentality, then blew a hole in that model and started again.The presence of former Orange County Register scribe Lee Jenkins probably should not be underrated. Heads were scratched when Jenkins was hired as the Executive Director of Research and Identity, but he has an engaging way with players and had gotten to know Leonard and George on a deeper level. At the very least he was another consistent, friendly face.The Clippers still have three top players who experienced two wins over Golden State in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series: Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley. All of them came from Houston in a trade for Chris Paul that could warrant hard time for extortion.They still grasp Ivica Zubac, their gift from the Lakers. They picked up Moe Harkless and Rodney Magruder, two more unspoiled veterans.Their margin for error is narrower because George isn’t always healthy and Leonard will probably turn in the same 60 games he did in Toronto. But last season’s Clippers were busting it to get into the playoffs. These Clippers will call the meeting to order in April.But this all started when new Commissioner Adam Silver cut out the cancer that was former owner Donald T. Sterling, thus winning the players’ confidence and giving the Clippers a magic slate.They traded Blake Griffin and his contract to Detroit for Tobias Harris, freeing up the basketball.They let go of the expensive DeAndre Jordan and his stagnant game, and Jordan has been on three teams since.They traded Harris to Philadelphia, much to the gap-mouthed wonderment of their fans, but they picked up more salary cap space and also Landry Shamet.And all along they signaled to Leonard, in a world where tampering is tolerated like traveling, that this was the place.Leonard had no bad options. Re-signing with Toronto would have been a punishing tax decision, but he is, or was, a national hero and could have won at least one more championship. Signing with the Lakers would have created a Blind Faith-style supergroup and, just with Leonard, Davis and James, a team of historic defensive possibilities.And who can psychoanalyze Leonard? But the Clippers offered something he’d never had: Control.He was under-recruited in Riverside and wound up at San Diego State, in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He was under-drafted, going No. 15 to San Antonio, which traded George Hill for the pick, and was an NBA Finals MVP. He was under-valued when he and the Spurs clashed over his quadriceps injury, and most of the intelligentsia thought Toronto gave up too much, in DeMar DeRozan, to get him for potentially one season. Then he won another NBA Finals MVP.Related Articles Clippers vs. Mavericks Game 5 playoff updates from NBA beat reporters For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory center_img What the Clippers are saying the day after Luka Doncic’s game-winner tied series, 2-2 This night has been percolating for at least five years now, with all kinds of chutes-and-ladders turns that were unconnected but then got synched-up.It also bypassed the consciousness of the social media punditocracy, which filled Leonard’s news vacuum with forceful predictions that had no better than a 33 percent chance. None of them had the George corollary, with the Clippers sending Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a CVS receipt full of future draft picks to the salary-strangled Oklahoma City Thunder.It was Fake News at its loudest, fiction that fell pitifully short of truth.The Lakers and Clippers finally have basketball’s best rivalry. Don’t grieve for the Purple and Gold. They still have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as far as their ligaments can carry them, and now they have the salary wherewithal to sign Danny Green and perhaps Marcus Morris, another Rich Paul client. Maybe they’ll stumble into better chemistry. They didn’t lose Leonard because they never had him.But it does expose the utter lunacy of failing to bring home Jerry West. The Lakers bollixed James’ first year and now they find nothing will be guaranteed in his second. Kristaps Porzingis ruled out as Clippers, Mavericks set for Game 5; Follow for game updates Clippers hope they can play to their capabilities, quell Mavericks’ momentum last_img

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