The biggest news of the summer for the Clippers (and for the entire NBA) was the Clippers landing their (board) man, Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi joining the Clippers sent shockwaves through the league, and the Clips Nation staff came together to give their grades for the deal.
Shapan Debnath: A+
I mean, it’s still hard to believe. Some security with a longer deal would be nice, but I’m not going to rain on what is the most important Clipper signing in Clipper history. Kawhi was probably my favorite player not on the Clippers, so hopefully this marriage is long and prosperous.
Eric Patten: A+
Is there a higher grade? Is there something that reflects the stratospheric achievement of a process geared towards signing a generational star in his prime immediately after winning the Finals MVP with another franchise? No? Ok. A-plus it is. We could get into the length of his deal, or the assets given up to acquire him AND Paul “freaking” George. But, for now, it’s all praise for the Clippers orchestrating a two-year version of the 76ers vaunted “process”, yet remaining competitive in the interim and actually acquiring good players with their assets.
Chris Murch: A+++++++
I mean, I legitimately cried a single tear like they do in movies when I heard the news. It’s wild that the most important day in Clippers history has nothing to do with an actual game, but it’s true: obtaining Kawhi Leonard (and Paul George, of course) was the single most important thing that has ever happened to this franchise. Not only did it cement the Clippers as the best team on paper in the entire league, which has never been the case, but it showed that the Clippers are no longer the little brother in L.A. Two superstars willingly evaded Lakers royalty to come build something as Clippers players. This has been a work in progress ever since Steve Ballmer took over ownership in the Summer of 2014, and all of the subsequent work has paid off. Well, kind of — they still have to execute and win, of course. But, as it looks right now, the Clippers have two top seven players in the league, the best bench in the league, one of the best front offices in the league, and one of the best coaches in the league. Looks like a winning formula to me.
Thomas Wood: A+
I didn’t consider any other grade. He holds the “best player in the world” title on a lot of people’s cards. He only turned 28 three weeks ago. He’s a wing and he defends and he creates and he shoots which is all way too reductive because he’s really a destroyer of dreams who also presents no questions about scheme fit. Plus, HE’S NOT A LAKER. The worries (and there are a few) are mere niggles. When you’ve got the money and the dream you buy the Ferrari. And, with no offense to Zlatan, that’s what the Clippers just bought.
Kenneth Armstrong: A
I like to think about this grade as if it’s for the first semester of a full-year course. If one gets an A in the first semester, they’re likely to finish with a strong grade overall -- but the work isn’t done. I, being a lifelong Clippers fan, see the contract Kawhi ultimately signed (2+1) and get a sinking feeling. But, as many others have said, the Clippers had to do this, even though they had to give up a lot and only get to lock up Leonard for 2-ish years. And they did it, so they get the A.
Max Jeffrey: A+
The Clippers let it be known, over the course of the last year, that they wanted Kawhi Leonard. They worked deftly, in every way possible within league parameters, to make sure he knew that he was constantly on their radar, all while building a team to compliment his talents. And they got their guy. A free agent of Leonard’s caliber has never chosen to come to Los Angeles and join the Clippers, so it was pretty momentous for the organization and for Clippers fans everywhere. It was especially significant considering he’s a player who just won Finals MVP with another team, and a well-run one at that. Leonard so-perfectly fits the culture the Clippers have crafted and established over the last couple of years, and he very well may receive the loudest standing ovation a new player on the Clippers roster has ever received on opening night. Every member of the organization, from the top down, deserves credit for making the Clippers the most desirable destination for Leonard, and for bringing fans a player of the highest caliber. There’s not much else to say that hasn’t already been said; it’s simply perfect. Just be sure to go buy a Kawhi jersey and fasten your seatbelts.
Robert Flom: A+
A shocking grade, I know. There are some questions about Kawhi heading into this season, and there were a few negatives about the way he signed. While a beast in the playoffs, Kawhi coasted to some extent in the regular season, and was still playing through an injured leg in the postseason — will that leg injury recur every year? His signing a 2+1 deal instead of a full 4 year max puts some pressure on the Clippers to win right away, and throws at least a shadow of a doubt on his future with the Clips. Finally, Kawhi’s waiting (albeit for the Clippers to land Paul George) a few days into free agency to agree with the Clippers possibly cost the Clips a chance at a couple better free agents to fill out the end of their bench.
In the end, these quibbles cower in the face of the enormity of Kawhi’s signing with the Clippers. Not only did the Clippers wean Kawhi away from the 2019 champion Raptors, but they also kept him from the Klutches of the Lakers, who were gluttonously eyeing Leonard after landing Anthony Davis two weeks prior. Kawhi coming to the Clippers and bringing George with him didn’t just create the best (on paper) Clippers team of all time. It marked the true beginning of a new era in Clippers basketball, where the Clippers will (hopefully) join teams such as the Lakers, Heat, and Celtics as true “destination” franchises. The hard work and dedication of Steve Ballmer and the Clippers’ front office appears to have paid off, with the Clippers getting the superstar they have been craving, and creating a monstrous team in the process. If this wasn’t an A+ move, I’m not sure what is.