Photos by: @JakePabloMedia
By: Bong Paredes
I am a Laker fan. Always have and will always be. I was already having visions of the Lakers winning multiple championships in my head and I was also looking for adjectives to describe Kawhi Leonard as the final piece of this modern day Lakers Dynasty puzzle. Efficient? Not catchy. Silent Assassin? Too much of a cliché and it’s not even an adjective. It’s a monicker! Let me sleep on it I say, and I did. When I woke up though my mood and choices of adjectives changed drastically.
Enigmatic. Yes, that’s the adjective that best describes Kawhi Leonard as I look at my twitter feed flooded with news that he just signed with the LA Clippers. For a week, the entire world waited, speculated and argued among themselves thinking we know where Leonard was going based on what we all saw on TV and social media. As the top free agents made their announcements one after the other, Kawhi did what Kawhi always does. Keep us all guessing until we’re blue in the face.
Torontonians felt good about the chances of Leonard staying. After all, they just won an NBA title by essentially giving him everything he could have asked for. A supporting cast that was good and deep enough that he felt great about their chances coming out of the east even if Lebron stayed with the Cavs. He was allowed to bring his own medical staff that worked in conjunction with the Raptors medical team. Something he never had and was a point of contention when he was with the Spurs.
Raptors fans are grateful that Leonard gave them their first championship since joining the league in the 1995-96 season. General manager Masai Ujiri also said that the team will support him regardless of his decision.
Lakers fans though, we’re all over the place. We are a loyal and passionate fan base but we are also the most unreasonable and delusional at the same time.
So you can just imagine the different levels of disappointment that emanated from the Lakers fandom with Kawhi’s decision. We can’t blame them though seeing that the news cycle for the last 24 hours with almost 100% certainty tilted the narrative in favor of the Lakers (yes, Chris Broussard I’m talking about you. Lol!).
Now that Mr. Leonard finally made his decision, there is no point crying over spilled milk. At least we can now start speculating about what the Lakers looks like and who else they can add with the cap room that they have and the players that are still available. At the moment, the Lakers roster includes Anthony Davis, Lebron James, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, Jared Dudley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Javale McGee, Troy Daniels and rooke Talen Horton-Tucker.
There are still a few roster spots left so let’s take a look at 4 players I think they should look at:
- Demarcus Cousins – After coming off back to back injury riddled seasons, Boogie’s value in the league drastically changed from a franchise player that could potentially be a number 2 option in a championship caliber team to a low-risk high-reward player that teams would sign for no longer than a 1-year deal. His experience and good relationship with Anthony Davis certainly comes in to play here as well. His defensive versatility along with his health will be a cause for concern just like last year with the Warriors.
- Rajon Rondo – We all know what he will bring to the team since he played for the Lakers last season and was the starting point guard of the Pelicans when Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins were there. Plus, can you imagine what “Playoff Rondo” can do with a healthy Lebron, Anthony Davis and at least a pair of shooters? They should bring him back now.
- Iman Shumpert – With all of the elite perimeter players in the West, the Lakers can’t have enough defensive wingmen that can alleviate the defensive pressure off of Lebron and even Rondo (assuming he signs). His 34% 3-point shooting clip is pretty decent to keep defenses honest.
- Carmelo Anthony – Though just a shell of his former self at this stage in his career, I still think that he can be a valuable contributor as a scorer off the bench that can spread the floor when he’s there with Lebron and AD. His defensive deficiencies notwithstanding, his offensive game is still above average even at the highest level.
There are players that have been recently traded like Andre Iguodala that might be bought out and could very well end up with one of the contending teams here shortly, but I purposely left them off this list because they are technically not available at this time.
As it stands right now, the Clippers are the early favorites win the title next season. But where does this place the LA Lakers in the West? They have 2 of the top 5 players in the league so it’s not unreasonable to place them as the 4th or 5th best team in the conference with how their roster is constructed. Here are my top 4 teams in the West at the moment:
- LA Clippers – They signed Kahwi and traded for Paul George while keeping Beverly, Shamet, Harrell and Lou Williams with Doc Rivers as coach. Need I say more?
- Denver Nuggets – I don’t know of one team that can improve their position by not making a major move. The Nuggets have one of the youngest and most talented core in the NBA and the experience they gained in last season’s deep playoff run makes them really scary and exciting to watch. If healthy, they will add another potential top notch talent in last year’s first round pick Michael Porter Jr.
- Utah Jazz – Mike Conley is not a top 10 NBA talent but his addition to this team along with Croatian Bojan Bogdanovic makes this very talented team just a notch below the Nuggets and the Clippers.
- LA Lakers – with the Rockets in disarray, and the Golden State Warriors in transition, I think the Lakers will be here even over last year’s Western Conference finalist Portland Trailblazers. Both Lebron and AD will be coming in fresh for the upcoming season. Both will be even more motivated to show everyone how good they really are after not hearing their names alongside the likes of Kahwi Leonard and Kevin Durant in the conversation as the best players in the league the last couple of months.
The Lakers still have a lot of question marks. Will Frank Vogel stay as the team’s coach? Will they have enough of a bench to keep the wheels from falling off when Lebron and Davis are on the bench or if one of them gets injured?
These are real concerns. At the same time, these were the same questions the Lakers had to answer in the summer of 1996 when they traded away their starting center and leading scorer and rebounder Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets for some kid named Kobe Bryant. They also sent their 6th man in then promising guard Anthony Peeler and reserve forward George Lynch essentially for a bag of beans. Oh, they also needed to renounce the rights of a guy named Magic Johnson (after a brief comeback that ended with a first round trouncing at the hands of the Rockets) to create cap space to sign Shaquille O’Neal.
We all know how that turned out for them, right? Besides, betting against a highly motivated Lebron James led team as he finds himself in an unfamiliar position of an underdog is not something I am going to do.