NBA preview: In a season of dynamic duos, Clippers lead the way
The NBA's superteam era has passed, maybe just temporarily. The new style for 2019-20 is Dynamic Duos, and it should be interesting.
The great team-up includes Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Clippers, James Harden and Russell Westbrook with Houston, LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley in Utah, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum in Boston and, coming in the fall of 2020, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn.
Golden State remains in decent shape, with the returning duo of Steph Curry and Draymond Green. Klay Thompson should be back from ACL surgery after the all-star break and the Warriors managed to add all-star D'Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade with the Nets.
Golden State moves to a new arena in San Francisco this season after three titles and five straight trips to the Finals.
The closest thing to a superteam is probably Philadelphia, which lost Jimmy Butler to Miami, but added Al Horford and Josh Richardson. A starting lineup of Horford, Richardson, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris sounds pretty good.
The betting favorite to win the title is the Clippers, which feels a little weird since they spent so much time as the NBA's most inept franchise. After the Buffalo Braves moved West in 1978, it took the Clippers 28 years to win their first playoff series.
Whether in Buffalo, San Diego or L.A., the Clippers have never played in the conference finals, and this is the franchise's 50th season.
But this is clearly a new era. Leonard had plenty of free-agent suitors this summer after leading Toronto to its first title. He chose the Clippers, who sealed the deal by swinging a trade with Oklahoma City for George. The Clips were able to hang onto many of their supporting pieces.
With Leonard, George and guard Patrick Beverley, the Clippers have three players who have been chosen for the all-defensive first -team. Lou Williams, Motrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet are still around, and they also have a championship coach in Maywood native Doc Rivers.
"I'm not going to be out in the front saying we're going to win it. But I'm fine if that's what everybody thinks," Rivers said on media day. "Why run from expectations? I've never understood that."
George is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery. He's already plugging the Clippers' defensive potential.
"I honestly think for the first time, people are going to be excited to watch the defensive side," George said. "It's going to be scary. We really have a chance to do something special on the defensive end."
Added Beverley: "We'll have that same scrappiness attitude, but on steroids."
One of the top competitors plays in the same building. The Lakers didn't land any of the top free agents, but pried Davis in a trade with New Orleans to pair with James. The Lakers' supporting cast is a little suspect, but there are plenty of good pieces, like Kyle Kuzma, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo.
While the Western Conference will once again be dominant in the regular season, with far more competitive teams, keep in mind the East is a respectable 7-9 in the Finals since 2004.