As I write this, today begins the 68th season of the National Basketball Association.
As with all sports, it’s the best time of the year for players and fans alike, simply because everyone’s undefeated and, as the cliche goes, hope springs eternal.
That is particularly the case in America’s second largest city, which unlike the big, bad National Football League has two NBA teams that call Los Angeles – Staples Center in downtown L.A. to be precise – home.
However, things are a little different in this City of Angels with regard to pro basketball hierarchy.
I’ll go ahead and bluntly make this statement, one which the millions of Laker fans are not going to like – at all.
In fact, this is a statement that the fans of that iconic team are flat out going to hate:
At this moment, Los Angeles is no longer a Laker town as L.A. now belongs to their cross-the-hall neighbors, the Clippers.
The reason? It’s quite simple, really…
In almost every aspect, the Clippers are a better team. And have been for the past couple of years.
A 5-2 edge in head-to-head competition the past two seasons, including a 4-0 sweep of the Lakers last year – the first time that has happened – is a good argument of that.
Right about now Laker Nation is pointing to those 16 championship banners (11 in L.A.) hanging at Staples, but you know what?
Those 16 banners are history. It’s the past.
Like Janet Jackson said in that classic song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”
Now don’t get me wrong; contrary to what everybody must be saying right now, I’m NOT a Laker hater as I grew up with that purple-and-gold franchise and was a big fan of the “Showtime” era of the 1980s.
But that’s a big part of the problem with that organization as Jim Buss, the son of the late Dr. Jerry Buss (Rest In Peace), is trying to replicate an era that, to be honest, will never come back.
Here’s why I feel that way:
Now before Laker fans go crazy, I know full well that the Lakers have also built through the draft as well, namely with Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, but one must keep in mind that they traded up to get those superstars.
The philosophy has always been that they don’t rebuild, they reload, which doesn’t always work and won’t this year as the team’s key players are either aging veterans who are frankly past their prime or nice role players who will never be able to carry the club.
Steve Nash is one of the best point guards of all time, but he turns 40 this coming February and is coming off numerous injuries that’s par for the course for a guy who’s entering his 18th season in the league.
Pau Gasol has been very good in helping the team to their last two titles in 2009 and 2010, but he had career lows in points per game and field goal percentage largely because of his glass knees, and he’s 33 years old.
Both men are in their last years of their contracts, as is Kobe, who the Lakers are praying will be able to play by Christmas due to that infamous achilles tendon of his.
Fans are anticipating the signing of big-name superstars next season, when they will have the money and salary cap space, but here’s the rub:
It is NOT a guarantee that guys like Carmelo Anthony and especially LeBron James will want to come to L.A., no matter how big the Laker mystique is, for the same reason Dwight Howard bailed after one year:
They may not want to play with someone who seems to not want to equally share the spotlight like Kobe, who will expect them to take a back seat like Gasol graciously did.
Kobe remains determined to win NBA championships while remaining “The Man” with minions, rather than equals, surrounding him. More than anything else, that has hurt the Lakers since their last title.
They, and particularly their fans, don’t understand that sometimes an iconic team needs to go through bad times for a few years in order to regain their glory.
The New York Yankees are a perfect example of that as after their decades-long dominance from the Babe Ruth era to the Mickey Mantle days, they went 12 years between World Series appearances from 1964-76, finishing in last place a few times during that span.
And it happened again for those Yankees in the 80s and early 90s, as after 1981 it took them 14 years to get back to the post-season.
I’m not saying that the Lakers should go more than a decade between playoff appearances, but I am saying this…
If the Yankees, who top the Lakers and every other American sports team as far as mystique, can have a few years where they’re not very good, the Lakers can, too.
The Yankees returned to prominence by rebuilding through the draft and signing young guys, and that’s what the Lakers need to do.
AS FOR THE CLIPPERS…
It is SO refreshing to see that this red, white, and blue team is finally relevant after being named the worst franchise in professional sports by Sports Illustrated; apparently owner Donald Sterling got sick and tired of losing and opened up his huge purse strings to get and keep quality players.
Comparing the current Clippers with their Laker rivals, it’s not even close as there’s a reason why they swept them last season and have won five out of the last seven games between the clubs – and not just because they are collectively younger, either.
Blake Griffin is better than Pau Gasol, new Laker center/forward Chris Kaman (who used to be a Clipper), or any other front court guy on the Lakers.
New coach Doc Rivers, fresh from Boston, is far better than his Laker counterpart Mike D’Antoni.
And the main reason for the Clipper emergence? Chris Paul, arguably the NBA’s best point guard – who the Lakers had traded for last season but were thwarted by commissioner David Stern.
Add to that the best bench in the league, and any objective basketball fan in L.A. should be able to see that the guard has changed.
Even Ralph Lawler, the Clippers’ longtime announcer with his “Bingo!” exclamations, is better than whoever is calling Laker games at the moment.
Coming off their best season ever where they won 56 games, including a team-record 17 straight in one stretch, and won the Pacific Division for the first time, big things are expected as the Clippers were picked to finish second in the Western Conference by the Los Angeles Times, while the Lakers were picked to finish eighth.
I know too well that people say that the Clippers need to put a championship banner up before they can claim true equality with the Lakers.
Though that’s a valid point, as far as the current state of affairs the Lakers do NOT own Los Angeles anymore – at least right now.
For the time being, L.A. belongs to the Clipper Nation, and the Lakers have much work to do – rebuild, NOT reload – if they want to take this city back.
L.A. SPORTS HUBBERS: HOW DO YOU THINK THE CLIPPERS & LAKERS WILL FARE THIS YEAR, AGAINST EACH OTHER AND IN THE LEAGUE?