What Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to Clippers means for Celtics

Nick Friar
July 06, 2019 - 12:20 pm

Only in the NBA can an absolute Bananaland move like this happen. As most know by now, while many of us were asleep at 1:54 a.m. on the East Coast, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his patented bombs on the basketball world, only this was next-level. Because not only is Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors for the Clippers, Paul George is also being shipped to Los Angeles from Oklahoma City.

Naturally, this means the Eastern Conference title is up for grabs even more than it was in 2018-19. The Celtics don’t have quite the roster they had last season, but the rest of the east looks pretty different, as well.

Obviously, the Raptors’ stock drops significantly. They’re still a good team with Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakim, but nowhere near what they were with Leonard around.

Milwaukee is now the clear favorite with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and George Hill still on board. However, the Bucks did lose Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers.

And for some reason, all the “experts” seem to think Brodgon plus Victor Oladipo in 2019-20 equals a legit contender. Oladipo is an excellent player and has potential to continue his growth, but this guy is coming off of a ruptured quad tendon. Have people forgotten it took George a while to regain his form after his lower body injury? I know everyone in the basketball world is aware of what Gordon Hayward went through in 2018-19, his first year off of his severe lower body injury. But, of course, people don’t learn and will probably say Oladipo’s first two seasons in Indiana were a mirage once they see he’s not playing at the same level in 2019-20 as he was in 2018-19. (I believe he’ll regain his form again, but not in his first year back.)

Anyway, back to the Celtics standing. I now have them clearly behind Milwaukee. That’s it.

They may have lost Al Horford to the 76ers, but Boston has real estate in the rest of their players’ heads. Other than a mass-overhaul of the roster or repeated success against Boston, nothing else can to convince me Philly has the edge over the Celtics right now.

Then there’s Brooklyn. If Kevin Durant was healthy, it’s not close. They win the East. But, a Kyrie Irving-led team with a cast of young guys? I feel like we’ve seen how that story ends.

Don’t bet on Boston to win the East, but don’t be so quick to let some of these talking heads lead you to sell them so short. Plus, everyone seems to assume Jayson Tatum won’t develop from last year or Jaylen Brown. Tatum took a step back, so I understand the doubt somewhat — but the same people doubting him were gushing over him this time a year ago. And Brown turned a corner big-time in the second half of 2018-19.

Along with the shift in power in the East, the Celtics’ other major takeaway from this deal is Danny Ainge was right to hold back in his pursuit of George, Leonard and Anthony Davis.

Leonard got a ring, which made it totally worth it for the Raptors. But is one and done all of a sudden now good enough for Boston?

George committed to the Thunder long term just last year. Yet he was so easily persuaded by Leonard when he sashayed his way into George’s life, met with him in Los Angeles and convinced him to reconsider a homecoming.

So after seeing what those two did, and experiencing the Irving fiasco, how could Davis be a worthwhile risk? Especially since he doesn’t have a track record of winning and his acquisition would have decimated the Celtics’ roster.

Having said all of this, Boston isn’t in a pretty position. A large part of that is the way the NBA rolls now. But considering the Thunder and Raptors went from contenders to a rebuilder and a middling team, respectfully, Ainge may have the Celtics in the best spot they could be in right now.