The MLB trade deadline is always fun, but it was especially entertaining this year.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, players continue to play chicken with their teams and in the FIBA World Cup, athletes continue to drop out.

All that and more on this week in US Sports.

 

1. Trade frenzy

This was the first time ever there has been just one trade deadline in MLB. In years past, there was a second deadline in July where teams could make waiver claims and acquire guys who could still help their teams in the postseason. That is gone this year. So that made Wednesday especially exciting.

While the leadup to the 16:00 local time (20:00 GMT) deadline was a bit slow, the second the clock struck four, things started going crazy. The Chicago Cubs announced they had acquired Nicholas Castellanos, the Arizona Diamondbacks said they received Mike Leake from the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Dodgers stated they received Adam Kolarek from the Tampa Bay Rays. But the trade of the day came deep in the heart of Texas where the Houston Astros obtained six-time All-Star and 2009 American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

The Astros gave up a haul to get him and will have to cover a substantial amount of the $75million of his remaining prospect, but his addition instantly gives Houston the best rotation in the American League and possibly baseball with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley already having top-15 ERAs in the sport.

The Astros made a statement Wednesday and it was one with World Series implications all over it.

 

2. NFL contracts resolved, complicated

The absolute biggest story of NFL training camps is contracts. First, Michael Thomas was made the highest-paid wide receiver in league this week by the New Orleans Saints, but two other players are not nearly as happy.

The Dallas Cowboys are nowhere near a contract with star running back Ezekiel Elliott who has already won two rushing titles in his career and Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon's agent reportedly asked the team to trade him this week. Contracts are an issue now and will continue to be over the next several weeks.

 

3. Clemson number one, Alabama second in the coaches poll

In the least surprising news of the year, Clemson have been named the top team in the college football nation by an assortment of coaches across the country. The Tigers received 59 of a possible 65 first-place votes and are once again thought by many to be destined for the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Alabama are ranked second, and also unsurprisingly, they received all six of the other votes as a first-place team by the coaches. These are the two best sides in the nation — on paper — and the coaches certainly believe that too.

 

4. Dropping like flies

Will there be any basketball players on the USA men's team for the FIBA World Cup? Of course there will be. Will everyone know all of those names worldwide? Absolutely not. The United States lost two more players on Thursday as Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond and Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell both dropped out of the event. They join an assortment of players already to do that and there are very few big names left with a few more likely to fall off before next week's practices in Las Vegas.

But the US are not the only team losing players. New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett pulled out of Team Canada's roster and Ben Simmons already decided not to play for Australia too. The World Cup this year is going to be pretty thin with big-name players.

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer certainly aims high as he unveiled plans for a new facility for the NBA team.

The former CEO of Microsoft and majority owner of the Clippers unveiled plans for a new multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art facility, one day after the team officially announced the acquisitions of All-NBA players Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

While Leonard was briefed on the possibility of a new arena – which Ballmer said will be entirely privately funded – it was not something meant to convince the 2019 Finals MVP to choose the Clippers.

For Ballmer, it was more about showing the All-Star that he is committed to improving the franchise.

"I want it to be beautiful," Ballmer told ESPN. "But I want it to be about basketball. I want it to be comfortable. But I want it to be about basketball."

He continued: "Being in LA, the free-agency thing will always be a little more important to us. That means we've got to invest in the player's experience."

The building does face opposition from Madison Square Garden, which owns The Forum, which sits less than a mile away from the proposed site for the new arena in Inglewood, California.

The litigation surrounding the proposition could take a while to figure out, but Ballmer sounds confident the plans will come to fruition.

"This is really going to happen," Ballmer said he told Leonard. "Obviously we have to go through the process... the lawsuits that Madison Square Garden has brought, but we are feeling confident that we can build our stadium in Inglewood."

Ballmer wants the building to hearken back to college basketball, with large sections devoted to rows and rows of stands completely absent of suites and boxes.

He wants to have a portion of the seats behind one basket from the floor to the top row dedicated to fans, and above all else – noise.

"I want it to be a noisy building," Ballmer said of the section he dubbed 'The Wall of Sound'. "I really want that kind of energy; think Oracle [Arena] has been that way, Utah, Portland has got good energy.

"I think our Clipper fan base is a little more tenacious. They're people [who have] decided they're sticking with us, and now I think we will get new kinds of fans with Paul and Kawhi joining us but I think it is a hardcore fan base. I think that we can get real noise, real energy in the building."

Ballmer said he was aiming for the stadium to be ready by 2024. Leonard and George might not ever play there, as both could be free agents after the 2021-22 season.

But Ballmer was clear, while this was something to show off to the team's new star players, this is about more than them.

"I don't want to say it was a major milestone in the meeting but we did share because it is another statement that we are really committed," Ballmer said. "I don't know how it's humanly possible but I still occasionally get a question about it; will your team move to Seattle? We are building our billion-dollar-plus house here in Inglewood, California."

Kawhi Leonard said he was "very close" to signing for either the Los Angeles Lakers or Toronto Raptors before joining the Los Angeles Clippers.

Leonard swapped Toronto for the Clippers via free agency after leading the Raptors to their first NBA championship in 2018-19.

A return to the Raptors or a move to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James had been mooted for Leonard, who eventually opted for the Clippers after they acquired Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Asked how close he was to joining either the Raptors or the Lakers, Leonard told ESPN: "I was very close. Real close.

"When [the Clippers] presented the opportunity of playing with Paul [George], it was easy, it was a yes. I said let's get it going."

Leonard entered free agency coming off one of the best postseason runs ever with the Raptors.

He averaged 30.5 points in the playoffs, was named the Finals MVP and helped the team avoid elimination by knocking down a crazy bouncing buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

All-Star Leonard said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers played a role in his decision to join the franchise.

"I grew up a Clippers fan," Leonard said during his introductory news conference on Wednesday. "I loved the Clippers as a kid. With Doc [Rivers] being a championship head coach, that is something I wanted, an experienced coach. And the front office is very transparent with me. They want to win. It's an opportunity for us to build our own [thing] and make history."

George, meanwhile, reportedly asked Oklahoma City to move him to the Clippers, who ended up landing him in exchange for guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, forward Danilo Gallinari, five future first-round selections and two pick swaps.

"This [wasn't something] that came out of the blue," George told ESPN. "We were all on the same page. The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do, and I did that. We played another year and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let's move forward with other plans.

"Again, it was mutual amongst everybody. [The] Thunder got amazing packages out of it ... And we all thought it was a win across the board, we all thought it was the best moment to pull the plug."

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer brought plenty of noise and enthusiasm as he welcomed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the NBA franchise.

NBA Finals MVP Leonard and fellow star George were introduced as Clippers players on Wednesday, following their arrivals from the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder respectively.

It was a landmark day for the Clippers, but a hyped and loud Ballmer stole the show as he went crazy with excitement.

"I have these notes, but I've gotta say, I'm just fired up to be here today," Ballmer started off by saying in his news conference.

"It's pretty cool. It's pretty damn cool!... WOOOO!"

Ballmer – gesturing to reporters and fans – added: "I'm pumped to say hello as Clippers to Paul and Kawhi… COME ON, GET UP! COME ON AND GET UP IF YOU'RE AS PSYCHED AS I AM!... YEAH!"

The Clippers earned plenty of admirers last season after reaching the playoffs with a 48-34 record before falling to the Golden State Warriors in the first round.

Los Angeles are yet to win a championship and Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said: "This is a great moment, but it's not our finest moment. That's coming. We're here to celebrate. This feels like a movement. Today is more about what's coming."

Leonard knows what championships are made of. He has two rings to go with two Finals MVPs.

"For me, Doc's a championship coach and that's something that I wanted," Leonard said. "The front office was transparent with me. It's an opportunity for us to build our own. We have a chance to do something special."

But, of course, Leonard had to put his own spin on the perspective around a title potentially going to the Clippers and not the Los Angeles Lakers.

"If we go to the championship and win and we get no coverage, that's fine with me," he said.

Leonard chose the Clippers and did not say goodbye to the Raptors. It felt weird, but it turns out it was just Kawhi.

"I want to think the Toronto Raptors fans. I don't have social media so I'm not able to put a paragraph out or whatever," he said. "Thanks all of Toronto, the city, the country. It was a great, amazing season. It was the best parade ever."

He continued: "Thanks to the doctors for delivering my baby boy. I also just want to thank the city as far as the restaurants. They had 'Kawhine and Dine' throughout the playoffs. I took advantage of that."

George will link up with Leonard, who was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2011 before being sent to the San Antonio Spurs in a trade.

"I remember I was in Indy when we drafted Kawhi," former Pacers star George said. "I was a little confused by it because I was the two-guard and Kawhi was the same position and I was a bit nervous for the competition that was coming.

"But fast forward, knowing that the player I am and the player he developed into, I wish we would have kept that pick and we could have [grown] together ... It seems like this was destiny that we were supposed to play together."

NBA veteran Dwight Howard would be open to playing for the Los Angeles Lakers or the Los Angeles Clippers.

Howard played just nine games for the Washington Wizards last season because of a back injury that required surgery before he was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies are likely to waive Howard – an eight-time All-Star – if they cannot find a reasonable trade for the 33-year-old center.

If Howard becomes a free agent this offseason and gets to choose where he plays next, he would consider a return to Los Angeles, where he represented the Lakers in 2012-13.

"I don't know what's going to happen, but I do love L.A.," Howard told the Los Angeles Times. "Staples Center is going to be rocking this season. When I played there it was rocking every night.

"The atmosphere is crazy, not just for the Lakers but the Clippers too. I just think all the hard work they've put in is paying off now. They've always been viewed as the Lakers' little brother, but they decided to stand out and be different and you have to thank guys like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul for laying the foundation for this team, and then what Doc [Rivers] has done has been great. This is just all that hard work paying off."

Howard played for the Lakers for one season in 2012-13, hoping to form a super team with aging stars Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. That roster was underwhelming, though, finishing seventh in the Western Conference. They were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs and Los Angeles have not made the postseason since.

After parting ways with the Lakers, Howard played for the Houston Rockets, Atlanta Hawks, Charlotte Hornets and Wizards. And the league has changed a lot since he last lived in Los Angeles.

The Lakers signed LeBron James in free agency last offseason and pulled off a blockbuster deal to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans this month. They also brought in Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins and some highly-regarded role players.

Although the Lakers did not make the playoffs last season, their new personnel make them one of the favourites to win the championship in 2019-20.

Then there is the Clippers, who signed 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and managed to convince the Oklahoma City Thunder to trade Paul George – spring boarding them into the championship conversation.

Howard still thinks highly of the Lakers, despite his short stint with the team.

"It just wasn't the right fit for me at the time," Howard said of his first season in Los Angeles. "But the Lakers have been doing something right for a long time because they have the most fans in the world and the most championships over the past 40 years. You're not going to win a championship every year, but they're back and will compete for a championship next season."

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has called the roster changes around the NBA "insane" after a stunning series of trades and free agency signings.

Star names Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and Paul George have been on the move in a sensational off-season.

"A lot of star players have a lot of power right now. This is the league we live in," Antetokounmpo told ESPN. "Like people ask for a trade and a trade happens. Players ask for a trade, 'I want to get traded there', and players go there. It's insane."

Leonard opted to join the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency, shaking up the Eastern Conference after he had led the Toronto Raptors to their first title in the franchise's history.

"For me personally, I would love for Kawhi to stay in the East and stay in Toronto because I would love to go through the series [with them] again," Antetokounmpo added.

"But unfortunately, this is the NBA we are talking about. Moves happen. People change teams. But we [have] got an opportunity right now. We [have] got to take advantage of it, and hopefully we can seize the opportunity and make big things happen.

"You can see a lot of stars all over the place. Clippers, Lakers, Brooklyn, Sixers, Boston ... it's good."

Despite the number of moves throughout the league, Antetokounmpo, entering his seventh season with Milwaukee, believes he can stay with the Bucks and win a championship.

"I want to be a part of a winning team," Antetokounmpo continued. "As long as we have the same mindset and same approach to the game, there's no reason for me to move and not be like Steph [Curry], not like be like Dirk [Nowitzki] or Kobe [Bryant] or Tim Duncan.

"I think it's good to control your own destiny and your own career."

There is never a dull day in the NBA, but this past weekend may have been the craziest moment in league history.

We will get to that in a second, but we will also touch on the Home Run Derby and the Houston Texans who are looking like a train wreck once again.

All that and more on this week in US Sports.

 

1. Clippers eclipse Lakers

This was as crazy of an NBA offseason as there has ever been. An MVP candidate (Anthony Davis) was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, two stars signed with the Brooklyn Nets (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving), the Boston Celtics reloaded with an All-NBA guard (Kemba Walker) and the New York Knicks are the Knicks.

But all of that news paled in comparison to what happened in the wee hours of Saturday morning when news broke the Los Angeles Clippers were going to get both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. While the Leonard news broke first, what we came to find out was Leonard had convinced George to accept a trade to Los Angeles from the Oklahoma City Thunder. So, while he signed seemingly on his own with the Clippers, what actually went down was the George trade was agreed to which sealed Leonard's move to Los Angeles.

Now the Clippers and Lakers have even odds to win the NBA Finals next year, but the Clippers have much of the momentum and possibly the best defensive tandem in the NBA in George, Leonard and Patrick Beverley. The Western Conference is going to be fun next year.

 

2. Home Run Derby for the ages

For years the Home Run Derby has been stale. A few years ago, the MLB was forced to change the format from 10 outs to a timed round in which players could hit as many pitches as they want rather than being selective and taking pitch after pitch. Some rounds would seem to creep into the 30-minute range and fans were losing interest.

Absolutely no interest was lost on Monday though in a Home Run Derby for the ages. This derby featured a man (Joc Pederson) who hit 39 home runs in a round and lost (Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit 40) and an event where a rookie bashed 91 balls over the fence and did not win (Guerrero).

There were 321 total homers in the event and the final between two rookies (Guerrero and Alonso) took three overtimes to decide. The Home Run Derby was not boring this year, it was what a Derby was always supposed to be.

 

3. Drama in Houston

The Houston Texans have been one of the better organisations in the NFL over the last several years as they have made the playoffs three of the last four seasons while winning their division five times since 2011. But all that success seems to be in spite of themselves and this offseason is a perfect example as to why.

Houston selected Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick in 2014. He has 29 sacks and 67 quarterback hits in his career and has been named to three Pro Bowls while missing a total of six games over the last four years. And yet, the Texans do not want to sign him to a long-term deal. In fact, they likely will not be signing him to a long-term deal at all this offseason, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle.

Even more damning may be the team's ineptitude in the front office. General manager Rick Smith left last year to take care of his sick wife, but it was reported he did so because of a rift with Bill O'Brien. Then the man hired to replace Smith was fired after one year with the team, but after the Draft. Finally, the team decided on Thursday they were not going to hire a replacement GM and will run the team as a committee next season. The Texans are lucky to be in one of the worst divisions in the NFL, otherwise they may be getting more flak for their actions.

 

4. Chad Mendes retires

A former WEC title contender has retired. Chad Mendes, who accumulated an 18-5 record and had Conor McGregor beaten and bloodied on short notice, has decided to end his long and illustrious career in the WEC and UFC.

"I just want to say THANK YOU to all my fans and everyone that tuned in to watch me battle!" Mendes wrote on Instagram. "With 29 years of competing and 11 year in the Mma game, I feel it's time for the next chapter in my life! It's been an incredible journey with so many life lesson along the way. I feel extremely blessed to be living this life I live and can't wait to see what the next chapter has in store for me!"

 

5. Astros' Marisnick suspended two games

Houston Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick has been suspended for two games after running over Los Angeles Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy in a game on Sunday, MLB announced on Thursday.

Lucroy sustained a concussion and broken nose on the play and manager Brad Ausmus called for Marisnick's suspension after the game as did St Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

Kawhi Leonard has officially joined the Los Angeles Clippers, but has reportedly made a surprising decision regarding his contract.

The three-time All-Star is rumoured to have signed a three-year, $103million deal with a player option in 2021-22, rather than the four-year, $141m contract he initially was expected to sign.

Such an agreement would allow Leonard to become an unrestricted free agent alongside his co-star Paul George – whose arrival from the Oklahoma City Thunder was also ratified on Wednesday – in two seasons, which puts pressure on the Clippers to be successful.

Leonard, the 2019 NBA Finals MVP, declined his player option with the Toronto Raptors after their championship run and elected to return to his home state of California. 

The ruptured Achilles Kevin Durant suffered in Game 5 of this year's title series made Leonard the most sought-after free agent on the market. He made things interesting by orchestrating a blockbuster deal.

The Clippers, at Leonard's request, sent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a staggering five future first-round picks to the Thunder for George, making them the favourites to win the championship in 2020.

They went from an eighth seed in the Western Conference to a powerhouse with two All-NBA talents and a strong supporting cast featuring Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.

The Clippers have come back stronger than ever after a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, but their window to win it all could be smaller than what many thought it would be.

Paul George farewelled the Oklahoma City Thunder after moving to the Los Angeles Clippers to team up with NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.

In-demand free agent Leonard left NBA champions the Toronto Raptors for the Clippers in a blockbuster deal after the Los Angeles franchise agreed a trade with the Thunder.

The Clippers sent five draft picks, plus Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in exchange for six-time All-Star and 2018-19 MVP finalist George.

Ahead of his move to Western Conference rivals the Clippers, George – who left the Indiana Pacers for Oklahoma City in 2017 – thanked the Thunder.

"Thank you Oklahoma for two great years, you took me in as one of your own from the day I touched down," George wrote via Instagram on Saturday.

"Thank you to the fans who make representing those 3 letters mean something. Thank you to Sam and Clay for being the best management a franchise and player could ask for.

"Thank you to the friends within the organisation that took care of my family and I whenever we needed help. The picture shown is a bond that can't be broken I truly loved and enjoyed the race from start to finish. Thank you OKLAHOMA! You already know what it is @russwest44! Love brodie!"

Leonard was heavily recruiting George to join him at the Clippers, even though the latter had signed a four-year deal with the Thunder last offseason. 

The Thunder could have denied George's request and tried to make it work, but they reportedly were concerned it could turn into a situation similar to Anthony Davis' departure from the New Orleans Pelicans – who eventually sent the disgruntled big man to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Oklahoma City finished the regular season in sixth position in the Western Conference with a 49-33 record. The Thunder suffered a disappointing early exit from the playoffs at the hands of the Portland Trail Blazers.

George averaged 28 points on 43.8 per cent shooting in 2018-19. He also averaged 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 77 games last season.

The balance of power continues to shift in the NBA, as Kawhi Leonard's decision to join the Los Angeles Clippers makes the league a lot more interesting.

At the beginning of 2018-19, many seemed to believe the road to the NBA Finals ran through the Boston Celtics. Then the Milwaukee Bucks posted the best record in the league just a year removed from finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. 

But it was the Toronto Raptors who dethroned the
Golden State Warriors in the end, and now they will have a new look without their superstar. Plenty of other teams are hungry for glory and now is the perfect time to strike.

Here are three teams that could now take over the Eastern Conference:

 

Milwaukee Bucks

The Eastern Conference is now wide open, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack. After all, they retained two All-Stars — one being reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee underwent a serious transformation under Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer last season. Antetokounmpo has put up historically strong numbers in the paint, but the Bucks were also among the league leaders in three-point attempts.

Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez will likely be constants, but it remains to be seen how the chemistry will be after losing Malcolm Brogdon.

Milwaukee simply have the centrepiece every other team wish they had in Antetokounmpo, so there is no reason to count them out just yet.

Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers may have lost an All-Star-calibre player in Jimmy Butler this offseason, but they will be just fine.

Philadelphia were one circus buzzer-beater away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season and are bringing back plenty of talent in 2019-20. The 76ers flipped Butler to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson and lured Al Horford away from the Celtics, giving them what might be the best defensive line-up in basketball.

Small Ball? Philadelphia have never heard of it, as the shortest wingspan on their current roster is 6-10. 

The 76ers' starting group will likely feature Richardson, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. And then there is second-year guard Zhaire Smith, who was voted the most athletic player in the 2018 NBA Draft by his peers but missed most of last season due to an unfortunate allergic reaction.

Philadelphia have size, playmaking, strong defense and four players that could get legitimate All-Star consideration in the coming season. Embiid's questionable health could be a facto but getting a versatile big like Horford that can fill in if he goes down will definitely keep the 76ers in contender conversations.

Brooklyn Nets

Even if Kevin Durant cannot play until 2020, the Nets should be better this season. They lost D'Angelo Russell to the Warriors, but Kyrie Irving can be a considerable upgrade if the pieces come together just right.

Both Russell and Irving are high-usage guards, but Irving is more efficient and poses the kind of threat that makes every player on the opposing team watch him when the ball is in his hands. 

Brooklyn added veterans in DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple that should pair nicely with returning pieces like Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, who was one of the most prolific three-point shooters in 2018-19 — converting 47.4 per cent from beyond the arc.

But the wild card is Caris LeVert, who arguably was the Nets' best player before a leg injury sidelined him last November. The 24-year-old guard was establishing himself as Brooklyn's go-to guy and now he has had a whole offseason to recover after showing flashes of his potential in the 2018-19 playoffs.

Adding Durant to a group like this could prove to be lethal and would certainly make the Nets a force to be reckoned with.

The Toronto Raptors sent "nothing but good wishes" to Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green after they agreed moves away from the NBA champions in free agency.

Both stars played key roles in the Raptors' 2018-19 success, with Leonard the NBA Finals MVP, but the two will move on ahead of next season.

Leonard is set to sign a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers, while Green is going to the same city with the Lakers.

The Raptors acknowledged the two big departures in a series of Twitter posts on Saturday, including a statement from president Masai Ujiri.

"We are very thankful for the year Kawhi and Danny played with us here in Toronto," he wrote. "And I know the city and the entire country of Canada are grateful for everything they did to help us win our first NBA Championship.

"On behalf of the Raptors, I say a very heartfelt thank you to Kawhi and to Danny, and we send them and their families nothing but good wishes.

"As an organisation, the Raptors will focus on the future and continue our pursuit of a second championship."

Leonard is yet to discuss his move, but Green posted a video message on social media.

"I had a fun time in the city of Toronto, love the organisation," he said. "Thank you, guys. Thank you to my team-mates. Thank you to the fans. Always have a great place in my heart. Never forget obviously the historic run we had."

The Los Angeles Clippers are set to re-sign center Ivica Zubac to their roster, having agreed deals for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

After winning the race to land 2019 NBA Finals MVP Leonard in free agency on Friday and trading for George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Clippers brought back a young prospect.

Croatia international Zubac – who was a restricted free agent - will again form part of their team after negotiating a new four-year, $28million deal, according to widespread reports, including one from ESPN.

The Clippers acquired Zubac, 22, from cross-town rivals the Los Angeles Lakers in February. He said he was happy to be playing "good basketball" with his new team in April and he will get the opportunity to continue.

Zubac averaged 9.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in just over 20 minutes a game after joining the Clippers.

 

Kawhi Leonard shook up the NBA with his decision to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency just a few weeks after leading the Toronto Raptors to their first title.

While the Raptors remained confident Leonard would re-sign with them and continue to build a legacy, the star ultimately chose to return to his hometown of Los Angeles and pair up with Paul George. 

Leonard's decision made a huge impact on the league as a whole, but how will it affect the Raptors, the city of Toronto and the East?

 

No outrage for Toronto, just disappointment 

After waiting until late on Friday night - or the early hours of Saturday for the East Coast - Leonard finally made his free agency decision. Much to Toronto's disappointment, he decided to move on after just one season with the Raptors. 

Some may question whether this taints his legacy in a city where he made such a significant impact in such a short time, becoming an icon throughout Canada, but the overall consensus and initial reaction in Toronto is that it will not.

Yes, the Raptors would have loved to have Leonard back. But no, there will not be outrage. 

It will be a hard goodbye, but there should not be hard feelings.

 

Raptors likely will stay the course and develop

The Raptors had a couple options entering free agency: stay the course with their young talent or to make drastic changes in preparation of losing Leonard. So what are they going to do without the NBA Finals MVP?

It is likely they go for the first option and keep building around their young core. Toronto might try to add two or three mid-level players to fill the void because there are no clear stars left.

The Raptors have done a good job drafting in recent years so it makes sense to keep investing in the talent they already have. A player like Pascal Siakam could have to step up and be a consistent playmaker, and let us not forget about OG Anunoby, who was sidelined for much of the playoffs. 

There is no way to replace a player like Leonard, but the Raptors will stay in the mix if Siakam and Anunoby step up.

 

The East is wide open again

The story in 2018 was about how wide open the East would be without LeBron James, who left the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. It is the same story this year. 

The Raptors surprised everyone by beating the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals and they would likely have been among the favourites to win the championship again with Leonard still on board.

Now, it is anyone's title to win as the West continues to build. 

The NBA is going to look quite different in 2019-20.

After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first title, Kawhi Leonard will reportedly team up with Paul George at the Los Angeles Clippers next season.

It is a move that will reignite the rivalry with a much-changed Los Angeles Lakers, while the Golden State Warriors have seen Kevin Durant jump ship and move to the Eastern Conference.

We look at the teams with a 'big two' following a series of movements in an incredible offseason.

 

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

It was a big surprise when the Clippers took defending champions the Warriors to Game 6 in the playoffs, but they will undoubtedly be a better team next season.

The additions of Leonard and six-time All-Star George – although the latter came at a high price that included sending Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and five first-round draft picks, four of which are unprotected, and two pick swaps to the Oklahoma City Thunder – have created a new force in the Western Conference that will be looking to contend straight away.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS

Despite finally pulling off the acquisition of Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Lakers freed up enough cap space for a run at Leonard.

However, they were unable to seal a deal with the NBA Finals MVP and will instead look to improve on LeBron James' disappointing first season by forming a truly formidable duo with Davis.

BROOKLYN NETS

Durant ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, but it did not lead to a reduction in interest in the Warriors star.

The 2014 MVP decided to end his time at Golden State and team up with Kyrie Irving at the Brooklyn Nets, who consequently captured two of the three biggest free agents on the market to step up their rebuild several notches.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

It looked as though the Warriors would dominate again when they signed DeMarcus Cousins to a one-year deal in the last offseason, despite the center being sidelined by an Achilles injury.

Cousins has not returned and with Durant out the door, Golden State will be relying on the backcourt tandem of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – reportedly on a five-year max contract – though trading for D'Angelo Russell could lighten the load.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Having lost out to the Miami Heat in their reported pursuit of Jimmy Butler, the Rockets will go again with James Harden and Chris Paul leading the charge.

General manager Daryl Morey rejected reports of a rift between Harden and Paul, though he will be keen for the team to start winning as early as possible following a sluggish start in 2018-19.

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The Blazers made a stunning run to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Warriors.

They will hope to go one better after tying Damian Lillard down to a four-year contract extension in the offseason, ensuring his partnership with fellow sharpshooter CJ McCollum will continue.

Los Angeles is set for a blockbuster NBA rivalry next season after Kawhi Leonard reportedly agree to sign on for the Clippers.

With Paul George also said to be joining from the Oklahoma City Thunder, an exciting Clippers team is set to go head-to-head against a Los Angeles Lakers franchise fronted by NBA icon LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Leonard, who spearheaded the Toronto Raptors to a maiden championship last season, is a signing who can make the Clippers – who finished eighth in the Western Conference in 2018-19 – a real force to be reckoned with.

In July 2018, it was the Lakers making waves when they drafted in superstar James from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There is now some real star power across both Los Angeles teams, and inspired by this, we have taken a look at times when cross-city rivalries sent the sporting world into a frenzy.

 

Manchester City v Manchester United

For a long time, Manchester City lived in Manchester United's shadow, suffering multiple relegations while their rivals won a treble and dominated the domestic game under Alex Ferguson's tutelage. Things changed in 2008, however, when City were bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, owner of the Abu Dhabi United Group, and they have since gone on to become much more than the "noisy neighbours" that Ferguson dubbed them in 2009.

The pendulum did not swing fully in City's favour until the last day of the 2011-12, when they clinched their first Premier League title in the most dramatic of circumstances. Sergio Aguero's last-gasp goal in a 3-2 win against QPR is the thing of folklore, the Argentina striker scoring after Edin Dzeko had already levelled the scores in stoppage time. It denied Ferguson's United, who thought they had the job done having won at Sunderland until news of City's sensational finale filtered through.

United got their revenge the following season, but since Ferguson left, the Red Devils have hardly come close to keeping pace with City.

Rabbitohs v Roosters

The oldest and fiercest rivalry in the NRL is between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Sydney Roosters.

Their rivalry escalated in the 1990s when the increased financial standing of the Roosters came in stark contrast to the lack of funds available to the Rabbitohs, who broke a 10-year, 13-game losing streak against their nemesis in 2005.

In the last regular-season rounds of 2013 and 2014, the Roosters came out on top against their rivals to claim the Minor Premiership, though the Rabbitohs won in the preliminary final in the latter campaign to reach their first grand final in 43 years. Four years later, the Roosters defeated Souths 12-4 in the preliminary final at Allianz Stadium, in front of a record crowd.

Mets v Yankees 

In 2000, the New York Mets and New York Yankees met in the Major League Baseball World Series - the first time two teams from the Big Apple had met in the showpiece since 1956.

Referred to as the "Subway Series", it was the Yankees who came out on top with a dominant 4-1 series win, despite having lost 15 of their last 18 regular season games.

It was a third successive World Series triumph for the Yankees, who also made it to the same stage in 2001, but lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The rivals have not met in a World Series since, and it took the Mets another 15 years to make it back to the big stage.

UCLA v USC

One of the biggest college football rivalries comes in the form of the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans.

The most famous encounter between the two universities came in 1967, in a match known as "the game of the century." It matched USC - with OJ Simpson - against a UCLA side including Gary Beban, with the Conference Championship on the line, while Simpson and Beban were competing for the Heisman Trophy.

It was USC who ran out victorious in a 21-20 victory and they went on to defeat Indiana in the Rose Bowl and win the National Championship. Beban claimed the Heisman Trophy, despite Simpson's notable performance in the encounter and 1,543 rushing yards over the season.

Boca Juniors v River Plate

One of the most famous and fierce local rivalries in football, or indeed any sport, the Superclasico is an incredible Buenos Aires derby between Argentina's two biggest clubs - Boca Juniors and River Plate.

In 2018, both sides progressed to the final of the Copa Libertadores, making it the first Superclasico final of an international competition. It was a two-legged encounter with one match to be played at each ground.

Tensions were high, and after a 2-2 draw in the first leg at Boca's home Estadio Alberto J. Armando, they boiled over in dramatic and violent fashion prior to the second leg at El Monumental, with the match eventually called off after the Boca coach was attacked en route to the stadium.

After much controversy, the second leg finally took place at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, with River winning 3-1 to secure a 5-2 aggregate victory and their fourth Copa Libertadores title.

Page 1 of 10
© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.