A decade ago, the above title would have been considered to be borderline blasphemy.
The Lakers were in the midst of a two year run as NBA Champion, led by superstar guard Kobe Bryant and All-Star power forward Pau Gasol. They were on the top of the heap, as was expected, of NBA royalty such as they were established to be. My how things have changed.
Fast forward a decade, and the Lakers are staring at their sixth consecutive season without playoff basketball in their plans. The Clippers, on the other hand, are experiencing quite a reversal of fortunes.
Previously, the only things the Clippers and Lakers had in common were being in the same city and sharing an arena. For years, the Clippers had loomed largely unnoticed, languishing in the broad shadow cast by the Lakers. The on-court play was even paralleled by the off-court support, as, with the exception of Clipper fan, actor/comedian Billy Crystal, most of the A-List Hollywood basketball celebrities were ardent Laker fans. Actors Denzel Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dyan Cannon, rapper Ice Cube, and we dare not forget Jack Nicholson, are all regular attendees at Laker games.
Fortunes for these two franchises would change when in 2011, the Clippers were able (after a veto by then Commissioner David Stern of a proposed Laker trade) to acquire All-Star point guard Chris Paul from the (then) New Orleans Hornets. This acquisition would pair Paul with 2009 number one overall draft pick, forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan to create what would become known as “Lob City” due to Paul’s pinpoint passing and thunderous dunks finished by Jordan and/or Griffin as a result of said passes.
The excitement surrounding the Clippers was the type of hoopla that was usually warranted for the Lakers. During this same period, the Lakers went through a number of changes themselves. Phil Jackson retired as head coach, and a number of players were brought in with hopes of reviving the franchise fortunes. All-Star center Dwight Howard and two-time MVP guard Steve Nash headlined the acquisitions, however, neither enjoyed much success during their time as Lakers. Kobe Bryant would incur a number of different injuries, causing him to be a shell of his former self. The Clippers were hot, trendy and exciting. Perhaps Billy Crystal’s (and Clippers fans everywhere) patience was about to finally be rewarded.
After bringing franchise icon, and Hall of Fame point guard, Magic Johnson back to run the organization as President of Basketball Operations, hope sprang eternal, and a comeback to the glory days appeared to be on the horizon for the Lakers.
The 2018 offseason saw the Lakers sign superstar forward LeBron James in free agency to a four-year deal. Adding a superstar of LeBron James’ stature was surely a signal that things were on the upswing. Along with two consecutive number two overall draft picks, 2016 selection, forward Brandon Ingram, and 2017 selection, guard Lonzo Ball, the outlook was definitely positive . . . then came the season.
The 2018-19 season has not gone as the Lakers would have hoped. James suffered a groin injury on Christmas Day and would be forced to miss the next 17 games. Once the calendar changed to 2019, a new set of injuries followed. Not long after James returned, Ball injured his ankle. This injury would be followed a couple of weeks later by a possible career altering/ending injury to Ingram, determined to be a blood clot. Ball and Ingram have been shut down for the remainder of the season, which has been an absolute nightmare for Laker fans, as the team presently has a record of 31 wins and 38 losses. Yikes!
Meanwhile, the Clippers have been in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. Although Chris Paul is a Houston Rocket, Blake Griffin a Detroit Piston, and DeAndre Jordan a New York Knick (having been traded by Dallas after signing as a free agent), the team has done quite well. They are currently the eighth seed in the Western Conference standings with a record of 40 wins and 30 losses. Head coach Doc Rivers has done a marvelous job of guiding the team in the absence of a superstar player on the roster.
As the Lakers face their sixth consecutive year outside of the playoffs, this looks to be the seventh out of eight seasons of playoff basketball to be enjoyed by the Clippers. Unfortunately for the Clippers they have yet to advance beyond the second round and are no threat to the Lakers’ second place setting with 16 NBA Championships. That being said, they are doing quite a job of making a name for themselves while slowly eschewing their “little brother” status in Los Angeles basketball.
With the offseason approaching, the Lakers have many questions to be answered, such as:
- Will head coach Luke Walton be retained?
- If no, who will his replacement be?
- Can another prominent free agent be acquired?
- If no, what’s next?
- With Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all having expiring one-year contracts, will they be retained?
- If no, whom do you sign in their stead?
- Will the pursuit of New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center Anthony Davis be revived?
These and other questions will need to be answered. Magic is on record stating that he would step down if he is unable to convince a prominent free agent to join James in Los Angeles, indicating “this is a two-year process.” Lakers fans are hopeful that one of the pending free agents will find Magic’s pitch, along with the allure of being a Los Angeles Laker too much to pass up.
In the event this doesn’t happen, and they are unsuccessful in bringing in the right combination of players, it looks to be another long lost season for the Lakers franchise. All the while, they would be forced to watch as the Clippers continue to put their inglorious past history in their rearview mirror, while charting a course to success and glory, establishing a new pecking order. An order in which the Clippers, not the Lakers, are the kings of the Los Angeles basketball scene.