- Led by a two-way superstar duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers have all the ingredients to be a more complete team than LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers. The Crossover podcast breaks down why.
Both the Clippers and Lakers made drastic roster changes during the NBA offseason to improve their chances of competing for a title. Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers, and Paul George joined him via trade from the Thunder, while the Lakers landed Anthony Davis in a blockbuster deal with the Pelicans to play alongside LeBron James. But which team is better constructed as we enter the 2019-20 season?
On the latest Crossover podcast, SI's Chris Mannix is joined by Bleacher Report senior NBA writer Howard Beck to discuss the two superstar duos, the Clippers' overall depth, the impact of Lou Williams, the Lakers' puzzling coaching staff and more.
(Listen to the latest Crossover podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Mannix: The dust has settled on all the moves that the Lakers and the Clippers have made. The Lakers obviously get maybe the biggest name out there in Anthony Davis. The Clippers, they land Kawhi Leonard, they land Paul George, they add those two players to a team that was in the playoffs last year and looks poised to take a big step next year. But if you follow that always fair and balanced Lakers Twitter, Howard, which they are just the most sane people out there, like they never overreact to anything. There is a belief that the Lakers are better than the Clippers right now going into the season, that the Lakers' roster is better than the Clippers right now going into the season. So let me put it to you: Which of these two teams has the higher upside going into this season? embed:14415677
Howard Beck: It's the Clippers, and I don't even hesitate with that. And it's not like it's far and away. I think it's definitively the Clippers, but I don't think it's definitively the Clippers by miles. It may be by feet, but it's definitely them. Start with the fact that their superstar duo of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are not only perfectly complementary, and I think AD and LeBron are perfectly complementary as well, but they're perfectly complementary and can do everything on both sides of the court. They can handle the ball and score, make plays, play on the ball, off the ball, both of them. And then at the other end, they can both defend the crap out of anybody. And they can guard one through four, even a five in a small-ball lineup, Kawhi could certainly take on. Then you add to that the fact that you've got Patrick Beverley, so assuming Paul George and Kawhi were playing the two and the three, say the three and the four, whatever it is, if you've got those three guys on the perimeter as your defenders, Patrick Beverley, Kawhi and Paul George, you've got such great lockdown ability as a team.
And then you go to the bench. Lou Williams, three-time sixth man of the year, can drop twenty-five points any given night. He and Montrezl Harrell have this phenomenal chemistry in that pick-and-roll tandem on the second unit. They add Moe Harkless, Landry Shamet had a really nice rookie season and I think there's just nothing but great things ahead for him. So they've got just nice depth, nice versatility and they're two superstars can do it all at both ends. The Lakers, in a vacuum, LeBron and AD you might lean toward because of the potency of a seven-footer of AD's abilities, the things that he can do inside and out, and LeBron, when healthy, still possibly the best player in the game. I'm not one of these people who's saying LeBron's done, LeBron's washed. That's crap, that's BS. He still put up like twenty-eight, seven and seven or twenty-seven, seven and seven last season. But he's not defending at the level he used to, and AD doesn't have all of the defensive versatility that those other two guys do with the Clippers.
And the supporting cast just isn't there: Rondo's up there in years, hasn't been a really great player in years already. Danny Green is a really nice role player for sure. DeMarcus Cousins still has all kinds of question marks surrounding him. Avery Bradley's fine. KCP, eh. Jared Dudley's nice. They don't have anybody as potent as the Lou Will, Montrez Harrell duo coming off the bench. They don't have a Landry Shamet, a young guy who not only can hit threes at a high rate, but can handle the ball; he's a more versatile player than Danny Green. He doesn't have Danny Green's championship experience, but he's a more versatile player. I just think there's just so much more versatility, upside and depth to the Clippers that they've got the edge. And in the end, LeBron and AD might still beat them. It's possible because LeBron and AD are that great. But on paper, the Clippers are better. By the way, one last point on this: the Clippers have had these guys together. The two stars are new, everybody else has been there playing together. And the Lakers, just don't have that foundation. I know I didn't mention Kuzma, I should throw him in there before Laker fans light me on fire. Kuzma is fine, but the Lakers do not have a third guy who's as good and as effective as Lou Williams.
CM: The Clippers of course are not flawless, and they're going to have to address that frontcourt I think at some point during the season, whether it's in the buyout market or with some kind of deal if they want to be a real championship team. But I don't think it's all that close. I think the Clippers, yeah they lost some guys off last year's team: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a terrific prospect, Gallinari was good for them, but they still brought back five or six guys from that group. They add Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, who I think are going to play really well together. I don't think it's really an argument at this point. The Lakers, as of like mid- or early-July, they had like three guys. There were three guys on the roster as they waited for Kawhi Leonard to make his decision. They went out and did some nice things. I think Danny Green's a true pro. I think he's going to make shots for that team. That's exactly what they want for a player outside of LeBron, and he's got that championship experience with multiple teams. But we're really going to sit here and talk about Rondo being the answer at point guard or KCP being an answer off the bench at two-guard?
One of the things that came up in some of my debates on social media was, Kyle Kuzma is an eighteen-point per game scorer in this league. Well, probably not on this team next year. I mean Kyle Kuzma was scoring sixteen, eighteen points per game for the last two years on bad teams. When your team improves, the natural arc is your scoring will go down a little bit as you have to defer to other players. So, Davis is gonna get some of those shots. LeBron, if healthy, will get more of those shots. I don't think Kuzma is a bad player. In fact, I think he's a very good one. But I don't look at him as being like the answer as a third star on that team. I think he's a solid role player, who if he shoots in the mid-to-high thirties from three, or even the low forties, then he's making an impact on that team. But they're gonna have to figure how to play together, they're gonna have to deal with early-season chemistry issues and, one thing we didn't bring up, what the hell is going on with the coaching staff up there? How big of an issue is that going to be? I mean Frank Vogel is either going to be like coach of the year next year, or he's gonna be fired faster than Mike Brown did. Those the only two outcomes I see for Frank Vogel this year.
HB: They're the only team in the league where we're going into the season saying, 'yeah you know we'll see how the chemistry works out with LeBron and AD and that new supporting cast and everything. And yeah we'll see how that chemistry works out with their coaching staff.' I don't remember the last time we went into a season where I was thinking about a coaching staff's chemistry. And the foisting of Jason Kidd onto the staff and then Lionel Hollins. And last we saw Lionel Hollins he was in Brooklyn, just shredding the local media on a nightly basis, seeming like he wanted to be anywhere in the world other than coaching. Obviously he still wants to coach, because he's back. But Lionel didn't seem like a guy who was really enjoying the job last time we saw him. Jason Kidd, all the respect for things he's accomplished in this league as a player, and I will even defend some of his early work in Milwaukee, but we all know Jason's got a history. There's going to be some volatility there. And Frank Vogel's not exactly the biggest personality or the most domineering type of coach.
Is this going to be a collaborative coaching staff that's going to work well for Vogel? Or is this going to be, as you put it, the kind of situation where as soon as things get a little haywire, then all of a sudden there's a clamoring from outside or within, to off him and promote Jason Kidd, promote Lionel Hollins for all I know? It's a strange mix, and I'm always a little alarmed when it's evident certain assistants were hired because the organization wanted it as opposed to the head coach wanted it.