Is Los Angeles a Clippers town now? No.

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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?

No.

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.

Paul George says he talked to Nike about his shoes after Zion Williamson injury (VIDEO)

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The basketball community lost its collective mind on Wednesday night when Duke Blue Devils star Zion Williamson was injured after blowing out a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.

Williamson’s injury was such that shares of Nike actually fell come Thursday. Meanwhile, the debate about whether Williamson should continue to play for free in the NCAA raged on all day.

Of course Williamson was wearing Paul George‘s signature shoe when he experienced the blowout, which apparently prompted the Oklahoma City Thunder star to contact Nike about it.

Via Twitter:

George’s shoes are very popular across basketball, and he told reporters that this had never happened to his knowledge.

I do wonder if players will be more reticent to wear one of the more popular shoes in the NBA. Then again, Williamson is a freak of nature in of himself so it’s not likely that the forces created by his power would be exerted by a normal player in the league.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.