The 2018-19 NBA season started off with great expectations for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite having missed the playoffs for five consecutive years, they were brimming with joy and anticipation, after signing free agent superstar LeBron James in the summer of 2018. Adding the player most widely viewed as the “best player in the world” to a mix of talent including holdovers Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Josh Hart, while adding newcomers Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee, there was excitement and hope for a new day in Lakerland. Then the season happened.
The Los Angeles Clippers were undergoing a transformation of their own. After trading perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets prior to the 2017-18 season, they would make a midseason trade, sending All-Star forward Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons. This past summer found the Clippers allowing free agent center DeAndre Jordan to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, thus losing the players primarily responsible for what had become known around the league as “Lob City”. While experiencing a renaissance of sorts with the addition of Paul prior to the lockout-shortened 2011 season, the Clippers’ fortunes appeared to be changing for the worst with the departures of Griffin, Jordan, and the aforementioned Paul.
This season, the Lakers were cruising with a record of 20-14, and then came the injuries. Rajon Rondo suffered a broken bone in his hand causing him to miss 17 games. Then, during the Christmas Day game against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors, Rondo incurred a new injury, with the double whammy of LeBron James succumbing to the first major injury of his career, a groin tear. This led to the Lakers having a record below .500 at the All-Star Break.
2019 also brought the same misfortune experienced during the 2018 portion of the season, as both Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram suffered injuries, with said injuries ending each of their respective seasons. Despite his return, James would be unable to lift the Lakers to a record that would allow them to participate in postseason play. As of this writing, their record stands at 36 wins and 44 losses, while James himself has been convinced to sit out the remainder of the regular season.
Meanwhile, their arena mate Los Angeles Clippers are enjoying renewed success. With the exodus of talents such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Clippers fall to the bottom of the NBA standings, but rather the contrary is happening. Head coach Doc Rivers has done a masterful job while leading the Clippers to a winning season and clinching a playoff berth. Thanks to the job Rivers is doing this year, in addition to his past success by leading Boston to the 2008 NBA Championship, Rivers is being named as a possible replacement for current Lakers head coach Luke Walton, who is likely to be fired at seasons end. Who could have imagined the Lakers desiring the Clippers head coach?
The Los Angeles Lakers face a pivotal summer. With multiple player contracts due to expire at season’s end, there is a lot of work to be done to find players that will help bring the Lakers back to the NBA’s elite. While being positioned to sign a top tier free agent to a maximum contract, the talk around NBA circles is that the Lakers will be hard pressed to convince one of the prized free agents to come join them, surprisingly, due to James’ presence.
Maybe President of Basketball Operations/Hall of Famer Magic Johnson will be able to persuade All-Star point guard/current Boston Celtic Kyrie Irving to relocate from one storied franchise (Celtics) to another (Lakers). He and James combined to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Additionally, Irving disclosed that earlier this season, he extended an “olive branch” via a phone call to James, to bring an end to the discord created after Irving’s departure from Cleveland.
While their very public pursuit of Anthony Davis has so far been unsuccessful, it is no secret Davis prefers to play alongside LeBron, with the feeling being quite mutual. Perhaps the Pelicans and Lakers are able to find common ground and facilitate a trade, which would undoubtedly be a significant boost in helping to aid the Lakers return to prominence.
As the regular season reaches its’ end, the Lakers and Clippers find themselves heading in very different directions, with the Clippers preparing for a first-round postseason opponent, while the Lakers prepare for a long summer. LeBron has said the rest he will gain by missing this postseason will be welcomed by his body, thanks to several years of deep playoff runs. In spite of any positives taken from their playoff absence, Lakers fans would much rather his postseason odometer increase due to games/minutes played. In the end, the Clippers have postseason plans, while the Lakers, unfortunately, have none.