clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Kawhi Leonard Aftershocks: Boogie Nights in L.A., and Westbrook on the Block

The last major domino of NBA free agency dropped in the middle of the night, and now we’re just watching the rest of the tiles fall where they may

Houston Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Basketball never sleeps, they say, and Kawhi Leonard sure put that notion to the test at the break of July 6. As most of the NBA-loving public took the morning hours to recover and recoil from the madness, teams have been hard at work angling their next moves. Here’s a roundup of what’s happened in the league after its landscape was shifted in the middle of the night.

The Lakers Sign DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, Are Now Poised to Sweep the Blazers in the First Round

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Boogie Cousins is joining the Lakers on a one-year, $3.5 million deal. He’ll reunite with former New Orleans buddies Rajon Rondo and Anthony Davis in L.A, and complete the bizarre Face/Off vibes that the Pelicans and Lakers have suddenly engendered. The union of L.A. and Cousins seemed inevitable. With Boogie discovering a nonexistent market for his services and the Lakers desperate for high-ceiling talents to round out their roster, the two parties needed each other.

The question now is how much Cousins has left to offer. The Warriors were forced to rush him back from a torn quad after losing the Finals war of attrition to the Raptors, and in that time Cousins showed all the good and bad of what he could be for this Lakers team. Boogie’s playmaking ability has always been one of the most underrated parts of his game, and his willingness to shoot from behind the arc creates unorthodox offensive structure, but his already limited pick-and-roll defense was almost nonexistent against the Raptors, who tried to exploit his lack of lateral mobility as often as possible. Expecting long stretches of stellar play from Cousins is asking too much at this stage of his career; he’s a bullpen player with enough stuff to get you a few leverage points in second-unit minutes, but far from the max-level player he was regarded as only a year and a half ago.

Ultimately, this is a play to make Davis’s transition in L.A. as seamless as possible. His friendship with Boogie is well documented, and Rondo played a central role in the Pelicans’ surprising playoff success in 2017-18. With Leonard now sharpening his knives across the hallway, the Lakers have gone all in on appeasing Davis: He’s their superstar for now and later, and the team is doing right by giving him all the comforts he needs to get the Lakers back into the postseason.

Holy Crap, Is Russell Westbrook Actually on the Trading Block?

According to ESPN’s Royce Young, he might be. Last month, the Thunder were reportedly shopping most of their roster to trim what was the highest payroll in league history last season, and Steven Adams was the most notable player reportedly up for grabs. But after the surprise Paul George trade early Saturday, it’s clear that no one is safe. Not even Oklahoma City’s one constant through the past 11 years.

The viability of a Westbrook-led squad has certainly seen better days. His team has made three consecutive first-round exits, and he’s not getting any younger. Teams interested in acquiring the former MVP will have to dive into a risk-benefit analysis, and envision what Russ might look like in a more structured offensive system.

There will be interest regardless of fit. Jimmy Butler may have gone to Miami largely for lifestyle considerations, but Miami certainly has the contracts to make a Westbrook trade work. There might be too much overlap in skill sets with Butler and Westbrook—they’re both extra-effort, battering-ram All-Stars with questionable shooting ability—but the prospect of those two closing a game together would be high drama. The Knicks were quickly turned into a laughing stock in the free-agency race, and were shut out (or shut themselves out) of a number of marquee meetings. Would they take a gamble on landing at least one tried-and-true star this summer? Or is that just the migraine-like trauma of Knicks past offseasons talking? Is Westbrook Daryl Morey’s next big, counterintuitive swing for the Rockets, or would pairing Westbrook and James Harden, after all the MVP trash talk from Rockets zealots over the years, blow the brains of more than 70 percent of the Houston fan base?

Westbrook and the Thunder front office are right to explore trade options, but it’s still a bit of a bummer. After cultivating the most promising young core in basketball—which included three future MVPs and surefire Hall of Famers—the franchise has one Finals appearance to show for it. Sam Presti has taken some wild swings over the years, and for the most part, has managed to keep the Thunder in the thick of things in the Western Conference. But we haven’t seen Presti helm a full-scale rebuild since he first landed the job in 2007. Westbrook might not get traded this season, yet it still feels like the end of something in OKC.

The Raptors Pull Off the Classic Kawhi Leonard–Stanley Johnson Switcheroo

Stanley Johnson, the no. 8 pick in the 2015 draft, has agreed to a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the defending champs in the aftermath of Leonard and Danny Green’s departure from Toronto. Leonard is an all-time talent, a two-time Finals MVP, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year; Green is one of the most consistent 3-and-D wings in the league. Johnson, I can say for a fact, has this over both players: He was drafted in the lottery, and both Leonard and Green weren’t.

Devoid of a superstar, this is where the Raptors have to make their moves count: on the fringes, where they’ve developed a litany of excellent role players over the years. Johnson, who has become a journeyman of sorts in the past few months, will become their newest reclamation project. At 6-foot-7 and 245 pounds, Johnson has excellent size and strength as a combo forward, and is a player whose defensive instincts will continue to give him chances in the league. Johnson is a brutish one-on-one defender who has willingly taken up challenges against some of the best in the game. He has the strength and mobility to knock players like Kawhi and LeBron off their spots and at least make things uncomfortable. The problem has always been where he fits on offense. He is a career 29.3 percent shooter from deep, and doesn’t have the burst or the handle to create his own shot. But it’s fun to imagine a switchable frontcourt of Johnson, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam causing havoc and creating easy opportunities on defensive stops.

After a whirlwind year, Toronto has to recalibrate to humbler expectations. This is a year of watching cream rise from the crop, as the front office machinates about the big-picture future in the background.