The NBA won very late Friday night. The Celtics won. The East won. Everyone except for LeBron James and Canada – and, you know, if anyone has to lose then who better? – won when news broke that Kawhi Leonard had agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers in a massive move that includes the trade for Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If Leonard had signed with the Los Angeles Lakers – as had appeared likely in recent weeks – there would have been a super team that may have dominated the league for the next five years. If Leonard had signed with the Toronto Raptors – as had become the sneaky favorite over the past 24 hours – the Celtics would have entered the season as, logically, the No. 4 team, at best, in the East heading into the season, even with the addition of max free agent Kemba Walker.
LAKERS NATION REACTS:
But with Leonard pulling the shocker and hitching a ride with Doc Rivers and the Clippers, the NBA is suddenly up for grabs. No super team. No prohibitive favorite. There is now a group of contenders – including the Celtics – that have a puncher’s chance at a banner.
And that’s good for a league where results have often felt predetermined even when the final result does not match the presumed storyline.
And that’s good for the Celtics as they clear one hurdle in the East and look to fight their way past the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers with one All-NBA player, one former All-Star, two potential future All-Stars, and Marcus Smart.
The path to the NBA Finals certainly did not get any easier over the past week when Al Horford defected to Philadelphia to go with the don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out exodus of Kyrie Irving. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge orchestrated an admirable salvage job when it came to luring another max free agent in Walker, shoring up the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, inking the intriguing Vincent Poirier, and bringing back Daniel Theis.
Yet, if Leonard had stayed in Toronto there would have appeared to be too many steps to climb for Boston without a major move. If Leonard had signed with the Lakers, it would have been nine months of futile battling to get in line to be the bridesmaid to the coronation of another Purple Reign.
Now the league benefits from something it hasn’t legitimately had in a decade – the perception of parity. Not necessarily the type of parity that suggests every team shows up in training camp in September with a shot at a title. But the type of parity that convinces the fan bases of up to 10 teams – including Boston’s – that if all the pieces fall into place then anything can happen.
The Celtics will have a very good, more entertaining, and much, much, much, much more likable team next year. They will have an All-NBA addition in Walker. They will have a former All-Star and Team USA player in Gordon Hayward, two years removed from his catastrophic ankle injury. They will have two potential future All-Stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Whether it will be enough to win the East is a debate that will only be won in New England. But it’s a debate, and it’s a debate that will play out over the next 10 months, which is much more than it felt like it was going to be if Leonard went to either LeBron or back to the defending champions.
The Walker introductory press conference has juice again. The story of Hayward’s grand revival has juice again. The potential of Brown and Tatum has juice again. Marcus Smart has extra pulp juice.
This NBA season got a lot better late Friday night. Good for Doc. Good for the Celtics. Good for a league that needed this to happen – even if it did not even know how much.