Don’t get it twisted: the Los Angeles Lakers had a pretty amazing summer. They landed Anthony Davis, a top five NBA player! You can’t land Anthony Davis and have a bad summer. It’s not possible. Now that Kevin Durant has left the Warriors, the Lakers are the only team in the league that can boast two of the top seven players in the world on their roster.
Well, they were the only team, until the Los Angeles Clippers just traded for Paul George and signed Kawhi Leonard in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
The difference is that the Clippers also have a supporting cast to surround their stars, albeit basically no future draft picks. The other difference is where these teams started at the end of last season: the Clippers made the playoffs, while the Lakers were 12 games out. The Clippers just took the basic core of a playoff team in the deep West, swapped Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the guy who finished No. 3 in MVP voting, and added Kawhi Leonard.
So yes, the Lakers did fine in landing Anthony Davis, an all-world talent and a perfect match next to LeBron James. But they still lost ground to the cross-arena rival. What a tough break.
Here are some more assorted thoughts on where the Lakers stand post-Kawhi.
The Lakers did lock up Danny Green on a two-year deal in the aftermath of the Kawhi decision — the Clippers couldn’t afford to add him as a traveling Leonard sidekick, and Toronto didn’t seem like a long-term fit without continued championship aspirations. Green is a good fit at every level for the Lakers, and has a long, twisted history with LeBron. He’ll show up in the playoffs, that’s for sure. It’s a good match.
The Lakers added Quinn Cook at point guard on Saturday. Now we’ll see how L.A. fill holes all over the bench.
Spending most of their post-Kawhi cheese on Green might seem to cut out DeMarcus Cousins from the Lakers’ plans. There’s also the fact that the team is front-heavy with LeBron (a power forward at this point in his career), Davis (a 4-5), and Kyle Kuzma (a power forward). They don’t need a center.
But affordable stars — even ones coming off of injuries — are always targets, and you wonder if LeBron’s friendship with Cousins, Davis’ friendship with Cousins, and the Lakers’ likely desire to wrest some attention back from the Clippers might influence Rob Pelinka and company to make an offer to the roving Boogie.
More pressure on Vogel
The Clippers have a star-studded team with a superstar coach, Doc Rivers. There will be no questions about Rivers’ capability to coach a team to a title, even next year. He turned around one of the most impressive on-the-fly coaching jobs ever in 2008 with the Celtics.
Frank Vogel has had a bunch of success (ironically nearly all of it with Paul George), but as the new head coach of the Lakers, this Clippers thing is one more landmine. With the Lakers and Clippers being primary title rivals in the same city, any Vogel foibles or runs-in with LeBron will be scrutinized even more heavily given that a perfectly comfortable, confident, competent coach shouldn’t have those kinds of problems with the title contender down the hallway.
This will probably all be fine. Vogel’s a good coach, and has a deep staff. (Well, that may or may not be a plus.) The Lakers have already fired one head coach since LeBron arrived. Vogel likely has a longer leash because of that. But Doc garnering praise all over the place as the Lakers and Clippers jockey for seeds isn’t going to make things better for Frank.
Battle for L.A.
Four showstopper regular-season games and hopefully a nice long playoff series between the Lakers and the Clippers are coming. This is huge. Rarely are the Clippers and Lakers good at the same time. The Clips’ rise under Chris Paul and Blake Griffin occurred as the Lakers dipped into Kobe Bryant’s regrettable denouement. There were a couple of years in the mid-Aughts when Elton Brand and Corey Maggette had the Clips competitive and while the Lakers were between large Kobe co-stars — those were fun times to watch the would-be rivalry.
Now it’s real. It’s very real. It’s going to be fun. Let the battle of Los Angeles commence.