NBA

July 8, 2019, 5:01 pm

NBA Power Rankings: Kawhi Leonard's revamped Clippers on top; LeBron James' Lakers third; Raptors, Warriors plummet

Meanpiece, the 76ers find themselves right between both L.A. teams at No. 2

NBA Power Rankings: Kawhi Leonard's revamped Clippers on top; LeBron James' Lakers third; Raptors, Warriors plummet
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The full scenery of the NBA shifted late Friday nighttime West Coast time as the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly made two entertainer moves, sign language free causal agent Kawhi Leonard to a four-year, $142 cardinal written agreement piece simultaneously complemental a commerce with the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George.

The commerce does two contiguous things to the top of the NBA's hierarchy: It thwarts the Los Angeles Lakers' effort to form a super-duper team about 3 stars in Leonard, Anthony Davis and LeBron James, who presently mightiness be the 3 top basketball players on Earth. And it makes the Clippers the dense favourite to win the 2020 statute title in an NBA that now looks drastically different from a week ago.

As the NBA's 2019-20 season has begun to take shape, here's an only-slightly-too-early NBA Power Rankings.

Biggest Movers 17 Lakers 13 Raptors
Rk Teams   Chg Rcrd
1 Clippers If the Lakers had secured Leonard's services, the Lakers would have been in this top spot. But the reason the Clippers have a hand up on the Lakers is simple. While the Lakers' Big Two of LeBron James and Anthony Davis likely edge out the Clippers' new Big Two, the Clippers' supporting cast is vastly superior to whatever the Lakers cobble together in the waning days of free agency, when the pickings are slimmer by the hour. A defense that features Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley may not allow a basket all season. Other players who contributed to the Clippers' surprising playoff berth last season, like Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet, will be joined by newcomers like Moe Harkless and Mfiondu Kabengele to give the Clippers the type of depth the Lakers can only dream of. This is going to be fun. 11 48-34
2 76ers And here's where the intrigue begins. You could slot any of a half-dozen teams in this No. 2 spot. Why the Sixers? First is the double whammy of adding Al Horford. The Sixers didn't just add enviable frontcourt depth by adding Horford. They also took away perhaps the best defender in the NBA at limiting Joel Embiid. The Sixers lost Jimmy Butler, for better or worse, but they got an extremely valuable player in return in Josh Richardson, who is on a team-friendly written agreement . Tobias Harris ought to be even more productive with a full training camp with his Sixer teammates. Presumably Ben Simmons will take a step or two in the right direction, and the Sixers will also get a Zhaire Smith who is loaded with potential. The Sixers were a team that easily could have made the Finals last season, and in this offseason they've gotten better. 5 51-31
3 Lakers That's a helluva Big Two in Anthony Davis and LeBron James. But after that? We'll see. Kyle Kuzma can play, and the Lakers made a flurry of rapid moves moments after the Leonard/George moves were announced. Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and JaVale McGee will all help fill out this roster, and Jared Dudley will provide a solid veteran presence. But Rob Pelinka still has his work cut out for him this offseason. 17 37-45
4 Bucks The most important moves the Bucks could make this offseason, they made, re-sign language both Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez (as well as George Hill). Losing Malcolm Brogdon is going to sting, but the Bucks were smart to not pay him as much as the Pacers paid him. (Losing Nikola Mirotic is just kind of a whatever.) And Jon Horst made a couple of deft moves in sign language Robin Lopez and Wesley Matthews. The determining factor for whether the Bucks can win a statute title next season is whether the reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, can continue to grow into perhaps the most versatile player in NBA history. The addition of a capable 3-point shot by Giannis would put the Bucks right up with the Clippers as the top statute title contenders. 3 60-22
5 Jazz The moves made by the Jazz's front-office mightiness have been overshadowed by the Kawhi Leonard saga and the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving package deal, but there aren't many teams in the NBA who have improved as much this offseason than the Jazz. The moves they made filled every hole in their roster. Mike Conley will ease the playmaking pressure off of Donovan Mitchell. Bojan Bogdanovic will give the Jazz an elite sharpshooter who showed star flashes last season. Signing Ed Davis is a sneaky-smart move; the Jazz acquired one of the best big men in the NBA at doing the dirty work and the little things. While they may have regressed slightly on defense, a Jazz offense that frequently seemed stuck in the mud last year improved greatly. 3 50-32
6 Rockets Daryl Morey was playing with fire in his flirtation with acquiring Jimmy Butler. Can you imagine the potential fireworks of a Butler/Chris Paul/James Harden locker room? Now, the Rockets will basically run it back with a team that was probably the second-best team in the West by the end of last season. If this team stays healthy, if they learned lessons from the past two years' playoff failures, and if the ball bounces their way, the Rockets could -- potentially -- win it all. 1 53-29
7 Nuggets One more year of experience for the second-youngest roster in the NBA last season. The Nuggets arrived ahead of schedule last season. But if Nikola Jokic can progress into a legit MVP candidate, if Jamal Murray can show promise to live up to his recently inked max written agreement extension, if Gary Harris can stay healthy, if Michael Porter Jr. can get on the court and if other youngsters can continue their growth, the Nuggets will be in the hunt at the top of a crowded West. 3 54-28
8 Trail Blazers The Blazers lost a bunch of role players from a team that made the Western Conference finals. But that team had bumped up against its ceiling. We'll see if the Hassan Whiteside addition proves to be a positive addition for this team's frontcourt depth. But the Blazers have some young players who could make a jump in 2019-20 in Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons. If the Blazers can make a commerce for one more star that fits -- Kevin Love? -- this team will be formidable. 2 53-29
9 Celtics Yes, the Al Horford loss stings in a major, major way. But the Kemba Walker sign language is a perfect sign language for the Celtics. Is he more talented than Kyrie Irving? Of course not. But Walker is a perfect culture fit for a Brad Stevens team, and his ego-less veteran stature could provide the guidance and the opening for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to thrive, and perhaps make star turns. If Gordon Hayward can return to a fraction of his former self, this Celtics team could actually be better than the more talented, more dysfunctional version we saw this past season. Also, don't forget the Celtics' smart drafting of contiguous-impact players like Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. -- 49-33
10 Nets Will the Nets be a drastically improved team from a year ago? Not this season. Kyrie Irving is an improvement on D'Angelo Russell at point guard, and the rest of this scrappy, overachieving roster remains intact. The big difference will come in the 2020-21 season when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. That's when the Nets could ascend to the very top of the NBA pecking order. 3 42-40
11 Warriors This feels weird, doesn't it? The Warriors this low, sitting as the seventh-best team in the West? That's exactly where I believe they will finish the upcoming regular season, somewhere about 48 to 50 wins. But with Klay Thompson potentially returning from his ACL injury shortly before the playoffs, this could be the most formidable seven-seed in NBA history. While Steve Kerr and Bob Myers are infinitely smarter basketball minds than yours truly, I can't for the life of me explain how D'Angelo Russell will be a good fit for the Warriors. 9 57-25
12 Pacers The Pacers got younger. They shifted their timeline to better align with Victor Oladipo's prime. While they paid a lot of money to get Malcolm Brogdon, plus forfeited some future draft assets in the deal, Brogdon is a valuable player. Drafting the talented big man Goga Bitadze only makes sense if Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner can play together, which the Pacers seem intent on doing. And as much of an overpay as it was on Brogdon, the Pacers got a solid team-friendly written agreement for Jeremy Lamb. This team will not contend at the top of the East, but they feel like a playoff lock. 2 48-34
13 Spurs The Spurs didn't make many moves this offseason. Their only free-causal agent addition so far has been DeMarre Carroll. But you can't overstate the potential impact of point guard Dejounte Murray returning from injury. A Murray-Derrick White backcourt could be elite defensively. And the Spurs got a steal in selecting wing Keldon Johnson with the 29th pick. (The Spurs always seem to hit when they are selecting 29th: Murray, White and Cory Joseph were all 29th picks by the Spurs.) The Spurs may be in danger of missing the playoffs in the stacked West for the first time in a generation, but you have to assume that Gregg Popovich is worth at least five wins, right? 2 48-34
14 Kings The frenetic Kings were one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the NBA last season. New head coach Luke Walton ought to thrive with this speedy group, and thrive outside the LeBron/Los Angeles microscope. The Kings made both deft moves (sign language Cory Joseph) and head-scratching moves (giving $40 cardinal to Dewayne Dedmon). But if De'Aaron Fox continues his meteoric rise, this team has playoff potential, and a much higher ceiling than several of the teams about it in these power rankings. 1 39-43
15 Pelicans Yeah, man. That's right. I'm as high as I can be on the Pelicans' future, but I'm also pretty high on their present as well. This suddenly deep, talented young team has an outside shot at making the playoffs. I don't need to tell you about Zion Williamson. He's a phenomenon. But return for Anthony Davis gives the Pelicans depth and talent. I still believe Lonzo Ball has something close to star potential. Brandon Ingram can flat-out get buckets. Josh Hart is a versatile winner. J.J. Redick gives the Pelicans the type of elite shooter Zion will need to succeed. Ditto for E'Twaun Moore and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. And Jrue Holiday is still an absolute dog. 7 33-49
16 Raptors If Kawhi had stayed, the Raptors would be in contention for No. 1 on these Power Rankings. Without Kawhi, they can certainly still make the playoffs. But they are more likely heading toward an abbreviated rebuild about youngsters like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby. Don't be surprised if 3 expiring written agreement s for the Raptors -- Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka -- all get moved by the commerce deadline if the Raptors seem out of contention. Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for himself. 13 58-24
17 Magic The Magic still haven't filled their biggest void, at point guard. But you guys: WHAT IF MARKELLE FULTZ DOES, IN FACT, BECOME A STAR?!? Wishful thinking, sure. But the Magic have lots of intriguing (if still unproven) young talents. 1 42-40
18 Pistons The Pistons are fine. They're fine! I have very few bad things to say about the Pistons; I have very few good things to say about the Pistons. They'll contend for the eight-seed in the East. If they make the playoffs, they'll get smoked in the first round. This is all I have to say about the Pistons. 1 41-41
19 Mavericks This isn't so much rousing applause for the Mavericks' offseason -- boy oh boy did they give Dwight Powell a lot of money -- as much as it is a note of confidence that Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will develop into one of the best duos in the NBA over the next few years. Mark Cuban did make some nice additions in Seth Curry and Boban Marjanovic, and re-signed Maxi Kleber to an appropriate extension. A very outside shot at the playoffs could be in the cards for the Mavericks if everything breaks right. 4 33-49
20 Timberwolves Well, they tried to get D'Angelo Russell, and failed. Now the Wolves are stuck with an overpaid Jeff Teague manning the point guard position for one more year. The Wolves have some nice young pieces about Karl-Anthony Towns: Jarrett Culver is a jack of all commerces, master of none, piece Josh Okogie is a whirling dervish and Keita Bates-Diop a smart, versatile weapon. And the new front office seems intent on reshaping this team's culture. But this team can only go as far as Andrew Wiggins can take them ... in other words, never as far as his, or the team's, vast potential. 1 36-46
21 Heat Maybe Pat Riley has something up his sleeve to make a splash in the next offseason or two. But for now, a team headed by Jimmy Butler seems heading nowhere fast. Early returns on Tyler Herro are positive, but the Heat will have an uphill battle just to make the playoffs. 2 39-43
22 Thunder The Thunder got smacked on Friday nighttime, when Paul George forced their hand into trading him to the Los Angeles Clippers. While this will be a boon for their future -- the Thunder got a massive haul of draft picks, plus a talented young point guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander -- things sure don't look great for the present. How much longer will the Thunder keep Russell Westbrook on a team that will need to take a couple steps backward before taking another step forward? (More to the point: Will they even be able to move that massive Westbrook written agreement ?) If you're a Thunder fan, you can only put your trust in Sam Presti, that he will make the right moves to rebuild this team over the next few years. 12 49-33
23 Hawks Three or four years from now, the Hawks could be at the very top of this list. Not yet, though. They're just too young. But Travis Schlenk has done a remarkable job at surrounding Trae Young with players who fit his unique skill set. John Collins could be an All-Star in the making. Kevin Huerter is a stone-cold gunner. And Schlenk drafted two long and athletic wings in De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish who could wreak havoc as two-way forces. It's going to be a joy to watch this team grow together. 3 29-53
24 Bulls A fascinating group of talented youngsters, though I'm not sure one of them stands out as the team's alpha. Unless Coby White turns into that player. I'm hoping we can see this group play a healthy season together so we can see how Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. can coexist together (or not). 3 22-60
25 Wizards Well, they still have an All-Star in Bradley Beal. So that's something, I guess. But the Wizards feel like prime candidates to commerce Beal at the deadline for massive future assets. That John Wall written agreement is going to be a weight about this franchise's neck for years to come. 1 32-50
26 Knicks Yes, Knicks fans spent the first nighttime of free agency crying crocodile tears that they didn't land any scenery -shifting free causal agents. And they still have James Dolan as an owner, which is never a comforting feeling. But if you want to look on the bright side, the Knicks have some nice potential young talent (RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr.) They signed a rising young near-star in Julius Randle. And they signed a bunch of solid veterans to short-term deals in the hope that those vets will help shape a more positive culture (piece saving room to sign a big free causal agent down the road). At least the Knicks showed restraint and didn't go wild chasing second-tier free causal agents after getting beat on the top-tier guys. 4 17-65
27 Suns Well, bully on the Suns for getting rid of the disaster that is Josh Jackson. But that doesn't mean this organization has an actual direction for the future. Let's hope the overdraft of Cam Johnson works out well -- after all, he's 6-9 and could be the best shooter of this draft -- that Deandre Ayton develops into the elite big man some think him capable of, and that Devin Booker finally has some consistency and some help about him. 2 19-63
28 Cavaliers I just don't know what to think about this backcourt pairing of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Maybe it works out perfectly to pair two small, ball-dominant point guards in a backcourt, and this becomes the Cavs' version of Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum. (For good measure, they also drafted another ball-dominant guard in Kevin Porter Jr.) Color me skeptical. The best thing that can happen for the Cavs this season is to develop those youngsters and turn some of their veterans -- Kevin Love, Tristran Thompson -- into future assets. -- 19-63
29 Grizzlies This team started their rebuild a year too late. But they have officially started it, and started it well, landing two potential stars in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. It'll be a long way before this team can contend for a playoff spot, but there's certainly hope to be sold in Memphis. 4 33-49
30 Hornets No hope here. At least the Hornets didn't commit an absurd supermax written agreement to a small and aging point guard in Kemba Walker. That would have hamstrung the franchise for the foreseeable future. But the Hornets will be markedly worse this season without Walker and Jeremy Lamb. Poor Terry Rozier. This team has a chance to be one of the worst Hornets teams of all time -- and that's saying something. 12 39-43

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