Last year, the Clippers were the hot new girl at the party in Los Angeles. You couldn’t take your eyes off her but there was nothing serious going on, it was all flirting and fun.
Now, things are getting serious.
The Chris Paul trade has the Clippers feeling like we all thought about the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple years ago — they team is on a path to being very, very good. They have what should be the best pick-and-roll tandem in the NBA (especially if Blake Griffin did develop a more steady midrange game). We need to see them play more consistent defense, we need to see if Vinny Del Negro can get them to play that defense, we need to see DeAndre Jordan’s game mature, we need to see them bring in more depth, and we need to see if they can keep Paul beyond two years. There are still plenty of questions.
But this is a team that could be a contender soon.
Does that mean the balance of power is shifting in Los Angeles? Could the Clippers pass the Lakers and take over Los Angeles?
It is possible in a few years the Clippers will be better than the Lakers on the court. Kobe Bryant has lost half a step and the Lakers are a team on the back end of their championship window. It is hard to see how they bridge to the future. Well, it’s not that hard to see how they want to — hello Dwight Howard — but whether they can get there is another thing.
But right now, the Lakers are the better team because we have seen them defend at a level good enough to win two rings and go the three straight finals. This season Mike Brown is going to have the Lakers refocus and be more physical on defense — if they become a better defensive squad they are dangerous because with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum they are going to score still whatever the offensive system. The Lakers may have taken a step back with the poor Lamar Odom trade, but they are still contenders.
There are talking heads — specifically Stephen A. Smith at ESPN — speculating Kobe Bryant is going to ask for a trade. Like he did in 2007. Kobe is not asking out unless the Lakers trade Pau Gasol back for Kwame Brown. Kobe wants to win, badly, but where does he think he can get traded he has a better shot at it? The East? Where the Bulls and Heat lurk and the Knicks are improving? You think the Lakers would trade him in the West? You think they would trade him at all? No, Kobe is a Laker.
Los Angeles is a Lakers town and the Clippers are not taking that away. Fair weather Angelinos may flirt with the Clippers, but their heart is with the Lakers. In a transient city like Los Angeles, the Lakers are the one thing that is generational — your grandfather watched Jerry West, your father watched Magic Johnson and you grew up on Kobe. There is no NFL to pass down generation to generation, and the Dodgers have had a series of owners one worse than the next. The Lakers just keep on winning and doing it with the star power you need in L.A. They are the biggest sports brand in the city far and away.
This is a Lakers town, and unless the Clippers are good for a decade (under an owner who has sabotaged every good opportunity that franchise has had for decades) while Jim Buss runs the good ship Lakers into the ground that is not changing.
Los Angeles is a Lakers town. But that doesn’t mean flirting with he new girl isn’t going to be fun.