NBA Fastbreak: Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard comfortable in new homes
A quarter of the NBA season is done, and a ton already has happened. Here’s a look at the surprises, good and bad:
Jimmy Butler’s new home
No move likely will have a bigger impact this season (and next summer) than the Philadelphia 76ers’ deal for Jimmy Butler, giving them a star wing to pair with playmaker Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid.
Since the deal, Philadelphia has won seven of nine games and might even feel like it has the firepower to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. If Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury/mental block wasn’t such an issue, the 76ers would have even more to challenge the Toronto Raptors.
Butler’s insurance if Fultz never quite figures it out, giving Philadelphia three potential All-Stars, which should be more than enough to build around.
Leonard’s permanent home?
Teams planning to pursue All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard next summer in free agency can’t feel good about how well things have gone in Toronto.
Toronto has played like the best team in the NBA. Teams such as the Clippers who have plenty of salary cap space have to be hoping for a catastrophically cold winter in Toronto or something else, because on the basketball side, Leonard looks as comfortable as can be.
What’s wrong with Warriors?
How is the best team in the NBA not the best team in the NBA? How is Golden State swimming in the muck of the Western Conference pack with lesser teams? Is there too much drama?
The Warriors aren’t dominating the West because Stephen Curry hasn’t been healthy. It’s not a coincidence that the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green on-court argument came in a game when Curry was out.
It’s not a coincidence that the Warriors’ longest losing streak — four games — of the Steve Kerr era has come with Curry injured. They’re still great without him — Durant averaged 48 points in the three games before Curry’s return Saturday — but they’re not the same.
L.A.: Confusion capital of NBA
At the quarter point of the season, the Clippers, not the Lakers, lead the Western Conference. The Clippers, not the Lakers, are playing with consistency and urgency. The Clippers, not the Lakers, have been the best show in town.
The Lakers’ issues have been more predictable. Scouts who watch the team on a regular basis still scratch their heads at the roster construction and have doubts about how players such as Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball will work with LeBron James.
At some point, these teams might crisscross in the standings — it’s hard to imagine James not carrying the Lakers upward — but the Clippers haven’t shown signs of slowing down.
The Houston Rockets are another perplexing team, dropping four in a row to Detroit, Cleveland, Washington and Dallas before beating struggling San Antonio. Not surprisingly, given the exits of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, defensive inconsistencies are the biggest culprit. … Denver is winning games despite point guard Jamal Murray’s field-goal percentage regressing. Once Murray, whom plenty of people tabbed to take a big step forward this season, gets going, the Nuggets should be even tougher. … There was some optimism in the Indiana Pacers locker room that star guard Victor Oladipo could be back sooner rather than later from the knee injury that’s kept him out of action. Oladipo went through on-court conditioning drills Thursday night before the Lakers played the Pacers.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.