Los Angeles Clippers: Taking a look at the newest contender

After cobbling together the latest dynamic duo, the Los Angeles Clippers have set themselves up to join the long list of title contenders for next season.

The NBA world was sitting on the edge of their collective seats over the last few days, patiently tracking flights and eagerly waiting on the decision of Kawhi Leonard. Nearly all of the top free agents had made their moves within minutes of the official start time. Kawhi was the only one left, with his choice set to shape the future for three franchises in particular.

Those teams — Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers — all brought their own unique selling points to the table. After the Clippers had seemingly failed to bring in a potential co-star, it looked as though Leonard would either go defend his championship or form one of the greatest trios of talent in league history.

What Leonard orchestrated instead proves that nobody, not even the most highly respected reporters, knows a thing about the mindset of an NBA player. The quite assassin convinced Paul George to request a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder that landed the six-time All-Star with the Clippers, prompting Kawhi to sign a four-year max deal per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

LA may have given up a king’s ransom to acquire George, but there’s no denying the team’s newest spot within the league’s title-contending hierarchy. They’ve got the reigning Finals MVP paired with one of the best two-way wings in the game. Along with much of last season’s core still intact, the NBA landscape has once again shifted dramatically.

The Clippers are coming off a surprising 2018-19 campaign in which they won 48 games without what was previously thought to be a necessary star player. Instead, they competed on a nightly basis with a collection of high-end role players across all five positions.

An unexpected postseason birth made for a great story, but nobody truly thought of this team as legitimate contenders for the championship. In the end, superstars are what set the contenders apart from the pretenders, and the Clippers just got two of the best in the league still very much in their primes.

Leonard is coming off one of the best playoff runs in NBA history after averaging 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game en route to his second title and Finals MVP. Despite some injury concerns, he proved to still be the best two-way player in the game today and fully capable of functioning as “the guy.”

George seemed to have plateaued into a perennial All-Star before this past season, only to average career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals. He finished top-three in the voting for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year with a newfound ability to knock down big shots late in games after struggling early in his career.

Having traded second-leading scorer Danilo Gallinari and promising prospect Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — along with a number of draft picks — some of the Clipper’s trademark depth is now gone, but the remainder of the cupboard certainly isn’t barren.

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams remains to provide a punch off the pine along with the ever-tenacious Patrick Beverley. A trio of Beverley, PG and Kawhi — all former or current All-Defense members — is sure to help improve on a bunch that gave up the sixth most points per game last season.

Promising young big man Ivica Zubac was recently re-signed according to Woj along with Montrezl Harrell still present to solidify the center position. Losing SGA hurts, but the Clippers still have All-Rookie Second-Team member Landry Shamet, who hit 45.0 percent of his 3-point looks after arriving in Los Angeles last February.

George was the guy the Clippers needed in order to get Kawhi to sign on a team now with arguably the best duo in the NBA. Both are sure to bring dimensions to the offense Doc Rivers hasn’t had since Lob City, but PG is sure to prove especially valuable at both ends if and when Leonard decides to manage his load.

Most teams tend to sacrifice depth when building a superteam, but LA’s ability to surrender mostly future assets in exchange for George should vastly improve its title chances in the present. Keep in mind, also, that the recently acquired Moe Harkless’ expiring contract worth $11.5 million could be used in a deal to bolster a weak backup situation behind Beverley.

Even during their most prosperous years, the Clippers always seemed to stand in the shadows of their Staples Center counterparts. With two of the game’s best opting for the other franchise in LA, a new era is upon the league. How close this gets them to a championship is a journey fans can’t wait to watch unfold starting in October.