21 years ago, Michael Jordan rose from the throne. At that time, after his sixth NBA championship with the Chicago Bulls, the superstar finished his career for the second time in 1998. Back remained a league that lacked the orientation. There was no favorite for the new season. Without Jordan, the Bulls ended up in last place in the East.
Now this situation has come again, this time Kawhi Leonard is responsible for it. In June, the enigmatic basketball pro led the Toronto Raptors to Canada's first ever NBA title, overturning the Golden State Warriors, the dominant team of recent years. After the triumph Leonard left the team and joined the Los Angeles Clippers. The result: The strongest basketball league in the world is as balanced as it has been for more than two decades, for which Leonard is responsible for two reasons.
For one thing, he left the master without his best player, on the other hand, he made with his move for the Clippers for balance in the league. The alternative was a change to city rivals Los Angeles Lakers in the room.
As Leonard Clippers' Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers recounted in an interview last month, Leonard set a condition for him in the summer. In order to get him, the Clippers would first have to reinforce their team, more precisely: they would have to sign the all-star forward Paul George of Oklahoma City. In the interview, Rivers spoke of "instructions." Leonard's wish was fulfilled, now both play for the Clippers.
Leonard could have sought a promising change, at least at first sight, namely the "big brother" of the Clippers. The Los Angeles Lakers with James and Davis were reportedly in the race for Leonard's favor. Had he actually moved to the Lakers, the question of the clear title favorite would have been answered.
Leonard's decision leaves for the first time who the best team in LA is
Three superstars are needed to become an NBA champion - that's what it was called for a long time. Not all, but many successful teams from the millennium made it: the San Antonio Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (2001-2016), the Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (2007-2013) and Miami Heat with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (2010 to 2014).
In the decades before, the leading teams often had three stars in their ranks. A "big three" with additional players, after this blueprint, managers put their squads together for years.
Oklahoma City Thunder, for example, attempted to form a titanic trio in two separate attempts: first with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, later with Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony. When LeBron James disbanded Miami's star trio on his return to Cleveland in 2014, his new team created the next high-end three-way team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Looking at the title holders of the past few years, the approach becomes comprehensible. The Raptors 2019 were the first team since Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks 2011, which won the title with less than three Allstars. Golden State, on the other hand, was the opposite: with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and occasionally Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, the team consisted almost entirely of Allstars.
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Leonard chose the contest
One of the reasons for this development is the self-empowerment of the players. In a system where professionals become commodities, they increasingly influence their sporting future.
In 2010 James, Wade and Bosh got together in Miami. Durant moved in 2016 from one title candidate to another and now signed together with Irving at the Nets. James and Durant each used that they were contractually. Other stars such as Anthony Davis, Kevin Love or Jimmy Butler called for trades to better teams.
Former NBA players criticized the professionals of today for this approach. "These guys are at the peak of their careers - and they're getting together," Reggie Miller said in a talk show, "I wanted to beat Michael Jordan." Jordan said in an interview with "Cigar Aficionado" two years ago, star ensembles are bad for the competition.
With his signature at the Clippers Leonard has promoted the competition in the NBA. Instead of joining the best player of his generation, he challenged him.
Leonard and George at the Clippers, James and Davis at the Lakers, Westbrook and Harden at the Houston Rockets, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the Philadelphia 76ers - there are numerous duos with good title chances. A first indication of who is in the lead will be the duel of the Lakers and Clippers tonight (4:30 pm, Stream: Dazn).