Leonard and George head home to LA, while Bulls pass on superteam trend
Opening night of the NBA summer league in Las Vegas ended early due to an earthquake, but the blockbuster news was yet to come.
If you missed it -- and most people did since the news broke after midnight -- Kawhi Leonard made his free-agent decision. He's headed to the Los Angeles Clippers, where he'll team up with Paul George.
The George trade seemed to come out of nowhere, but the Clippers will send Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five future first-round picks to Oklahoma City.
In the end, this was about two guys from the outskirts of Los Angeles moving closer to home. Both Leonard and George asked to be traded to one of the Southern California teams and neither got his wish initially. George was traded from Indiana to OKC and decided to re-sign with the Thunder last summer. Leonard, of course, went from San Antonio to Toronto and led the Raptors to their first NBA title.
Does anyone still remember the first blockbuster move of the summer? All-star center Anthony Davis, a Chicago native, received his wish to be traded to the Lakers, a deal that became public on June 15 and should be official in the next couple of days.
If Leonard and George asked to go home, why didn't Davis?
The answer is obvious. The Bulls won 22 games last year, are in the middle of a drawn-out rebuild and have a head coach who is unproven in the NBA. There's nothing going on with the Bulls right now that would attract a major free agent.
But this goes back to the decision to rebuild two years ago. The Bulls could have run it back in 2017-18 with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. They would have had a three-time all-star in Butler, the possibility of cap room in the near future and perhaps most importantly, they would have had Wade, one of the most respected NBA voices of his generation, as an advocate.
Wade, of course, is from Chicago. Maybe somewhere along the line, the Bulls should have made a push to bring Doc Rivers home. The Maywood native has the respect of NBA players and was said to be an important part of Leonard choosing the Clippers.
The path to title contention in today's NBA is recruiting star players who want to be teammates. Having cap space usually helps, but it can be done via trade as well.
The Bulls chose the old-fashioned way: Be bad, hope for some lottery luck, collect assets and follow a long, meandering path to the second round of the playoffs.
This method can work. Milwaukee's success was largely homegrown. The Bucks found an MVP with the No. 15 overall pick and hit big with a couple of second-round picks. But they're also experiencing the pitfalls of success. They lost Malcolm Brogdon in free-agency and had to pay a hefty price to re-sign Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
Toronto basically traded its way to a championship, but began that process by making some smart moves. They swapped out draft picks DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, and hit big with a late first-rounder in Pascal Siakam.
So maybe there was some good news for the Bulls Friday. Second-round pick Daniel Gafford probably delivered the best performance by a rookie on the opening day of the Las Vegas summer league, collecting 21 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. A promising sign, maybe.
But on a day when two superstars changed teams, you can't help wondering if the Bulls would have been better off with Butler and Wade trying to convince Davis to come home, rather than hoping Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen can make that next giant step.
It doesn't matter. The decision has already been made. In September, the Bulls will get back to trying to stay healthy and keep up with the superteams somehow.