The Clippers are en route to clearing enough cap space to sign two max free agents this summer as a result of their trade with the 76ers. The 76ers’ side is one thing, but it is what the Clippers did that should have several NBA teams terrified. This includes the most talked-about teams in the NBA right now: the Lakers, Knicks, Celtics, 76ers, and Raptors.
It begins with the Raptors. They took a risk trading for Kawhi Leonard, and even though it is going well, it has not stopped the buzz that he will leave them for the Clippers this summer. Today, only makes it easier for Leonard to leave knowing he could soon be joined by another player of his caliber. He may not want to play with LeBron James, but it is hard to believe playing with some other star would not make the destination more appealing.
The team that should be the most concerned is the one that just last week made a similar move: The Knicks. New York’s gameplan is no secret. They are going big-game hunting for Kevin Durant and someone else. This scenario is much more complicated now. Durant going by himself has to be considered a long shot given the Knicks’ roster. Therefore, if the Clippers do sign Leonard, it not only takes away a potential teammate – probably unlikely, anyway – but could sway other stars to then join Leonard over him. Leonard is not nearly the star Durant is, and if Durant leaves Golden State, it is a safe bet he is looking to be Batman. If Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Kemba Walker are not looking to take a backseat, joining Leonard, who is on their tier, certainly is the better option.
If Leonard does not go to the Clippers, and the moves are made to free additional cap space, then all of a sudden the Knicks still have to worry about two other free agents teaming up there. Butler and Irving – which is why this is a bad day for Boston, as well – have been long rumored as friends who could team up. If they want that, they now can choose the Clippers as opposed to the Knicks. Adrian Wojnarowski reported in September, before he was traded to the 76ers, the Clippers were the team Butler was “most interested in pursuing a future with.”
Oddly enough, Butler’s interest in the Clippers this fall is why the team that made the deal with the Clippers should also be prepared for a heart-breaking July. Butler has not meshed well with Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons so far. At this point, joining Irving or Leonard sure looks like a better option than Philadelphia, a team that could find themselves in a disastrous cap situation if Butler and/or Tobias Harris stays there.
And, of course, this should have Magic Johnson worried. Reportedly, the sole reason Leonard and Butler prefer the Clippers over the Lakers comes from them not wanting to play next to LeBron. The Lakers are running out of options when it comes to pairing LeBron with a superstar. The scenario where they are forced to settle this summer for a Kemba Walker or Khris Middleton could now become a challenge with the Clippers’ openings. But where this should really have the Lakers’ stomachs turning is the ramifications this has on the summer of 2020. If the Clippers only sign one max free agent this summer–and that is the best bet–they can wait and go all-in on Anthony Davis a year later. Everyone is assuming Davis wants to be a Laker and only a Laker, but the word is he would sign long-term with the Clippers, as well. Like with Durant, teaming up with Leonard over LeBron may be the better option for someone of Davis’ stature.
The Clippers history may indicate otherwise, but today, it is easier to envision one of these hypotheticals going their way, to the detriment of some other big players hoping to land the biggest prizes in the NBA.