The LA Clippers wanted to be the canvas that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant painted their beautiful works on. Nope. The duo and their tag-along DeAndre Jordan picked the Brooklyn Nets.
The LA Lakers thought they had a chance to reunite Kyrie with LeBron James, or perhaps pull in D’Angelo Russell or Jimmy Butler. Nope. The Warriors of all teams took in Russell, and Butler is bound for Miami (unless the sign and trade is now unsalvageable).
There’s one surefire superstar left in NBA free agency as we enter Day 2: Kawhi Leonard. Both the Lakers and Clippers are gunning for him. One or both is going to miss out. And what a disaster that will be.
It’s not just that both LA teams have missed out on the other stars. The Lakers and Clippers each could have prioritized Kawhi over the other options, all of which have one flaw or another. If you prefer Kawhi and think you have a real shot at him, maybe you don’t even get heavily invested in chasing Kemba Walker or Butler beyond doing the perfunctory initial outreach. If you’re the Lakers and you reach out to Butler early and he’s on board, you can’t risk losing even a shot at Kawhi to lock him up, even if that means Butler won’t be there as a Plan B.
The bigger issue for one or both of the LA teams is that it’s not just the top of the market that’s been active. Free agency has been extremely active across the spectrum. Second-tier and third-tier free agents are getting snapped up.
J.J. Redick was a great potential Lakers target if the other options didn’t pan out. Redick get snapped up quickly by the Pelicans. Russell could have been the perfect answer for the Clippers, but he’s elsewhere in the Pacific Division. Either team could have used Dewayne Dedmon. He signed with the Kings. Bojan Bogdanovic could have slid in well. He’s with the Jazz.
Even Reggie Bullock, who the Lakers held a salary cap hold on, inked a new deal in the earliest hours of free agency, signing with the New York Knicks. Like the LA teams, the Knicks struck out on the biggest fish. But unlike the Lakers and Clippers, New York apparently gave up on getting Leonard once Durant and Irving chose the Nets. So the Knicks pivoted and used their salary cap space on players — Bullock, Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and Taj Gibson. The Knicks had huge amounts of cap space and used it to sign players no longer available to the Lakers or Clippers.
Plan A for the Lakers — adding Kawhi to the LeBron and Anthony Davis duo and becoming instant title favorites — is still on the table, but Plan B is gone. Plan C might be signing DeMarcus Cousins. How much longer will he last on this market? Will he sign somewhere before Kawhi decides?
Plan A for the Clippers — adding two of Kyrie, Kawhi, and Durant — is dead. Plan B was to get one of them. That’s still possible. Plan C might have been getting Russell or Butler. That’s dead. The Clippers did give Patrick Beverley a three-year deal that won’t preclude them from offering Kawhi the max. If Leonard goes elsewhere, the Clips are relegated to running it back.
For better or worse, both LA teams have all of their considerable eggs in a basket named Kawhi Leonard, and he could very well decide to go back to the NBA champion Toronto Raptors when all is said and done. The Lakers and Clippers expected to have some back-up options, but all of the good paths are blocked now. The decisions of superstars always have ripple effects in NBA free agency. But rarely is it set in such stark terms.