Sure the Clippers lost to the Lakers last night, 96-91, leveling the series between the two teams at one win apiece so far in 2012. Chris Paul returned after missing five games with a hamstring injury. It wasn't Paul's best night, but he played 27 minutes and should be back to full strength within days.
The Los Angeles Clippers are still 9-6 on the season, trailing only the Los Angeles Lakers (11-8) in the Pacific Division. Those same Lakers needed to play their best game of the season so far in order to defeat the Clippers and avoid a fourth straight loss.
But that wasn't the only action (or news) related to Chris Paul. Sure the "what if the Lakers HAD gotten Chris Paul" talk has been rampant recently. The Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Dallas Mavericks, 105-90 to improve their record to 8-10 on the season. Ricky Rubio has arrived and he is for real.
That means that the Minnesota 2012 unprotected first-round draft pick that the Clippers sent to the Hornets as part of the Chris Paul trade will more likely be in the low teens than in the top five. That's a huge difference. At one point, that draft pick was thought to easily be a top-four pick, guaranteed.
But it goes further than that. Yahoo's Marc Spears reported the New Orleans Hornets failed to come to a contract extension with shooting guard Eric Gordon, the other centerpiece of the trade who they received in exchange for Chris Paul. Immediately after the news about Gordon rejecting the extension came out, news broke that Gordon is expected to miss three to six weeks with his current knee injury, according to Hornets247.
And did I mention that Chris Kaman (another player acquired in the trade for Paul) was the NBA's version of a "healthy scratch?" It's called a DNP-CD or "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision." Either Kaman is being held out because he's being traded, or he's falling out of the rotation for the lowly Hornets.
The other player the Hornets received, forward Al-Farouq Aminu, is still very much a developmental prospect despite being very talented.
After the Hornets and Lakers trade for Chris Paul was overturned/vetoed/revoked/voted down, the Clippers were really the only place Paul COULD be traded to if the Hornets wanted a good haul in return. The Clippers were semi-criticized for bidding against themselves a bit in giving up Eric Gordon AND the T'Wolves' draft pick. Some said that the Clippers should have waited and they would've been able to retain one of the two assets.
In yet another surprising case of the Clippers NOT being the Clippers, they managed to retain Eric Bledsoe and pulled the trigger on the trade. Had they waited, they might not have been able to make the trade work at all. What if Gordon was hurt and headed for free agency? What if the Minnesota draft pick looked more like a mid-first round pick? The entire trade would've been different, if it went down at all.
The pessimist in me saw Eric Gordon developing into an All-Star shooting guard while the T'Wolves failed as usual, resulting in them having the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. That was the nightmare scenario for the Clippers. They could've held Baron Davis and landed Kyrie Irving, kept Gordon and landed the No. 1 pick in 2013 from the T'Wolves.
But none of that happened. The Clippers paid a ransom for Chris Paul. They bid on Chauncey Billups. They gave Caron Butler more money (and years) than anybody else was prepared to. They shelled out over $40 million for a raw, undeveloped talent in DeAndre Jordan. The only reason he was even in that financial ballpark was because the Golden State Warriors were on a mission to overpay a big man. When the Clippers matched their offer to Jordan, they promptly wasted $7 million on Kwame Brown.
This is difference between a regular/neutral sports franchise and a downtrodden/cursed sports franchise. The Clippers have collected some bad knees and some big contracts. Not so long ago, that was a guaranteed formula for failure. And not taking anything away from Blake Griffin, but Chris Paul is transcendent.
When Chris Paul is in the game, he controls the game. He's the master and the maestro. The magician and the tactician. He's one of the top talents and most skilled players in the NBA. He is the engine that powers the Lob City Express.
That's why it was so important to see HOW the Clippers lost to the Lakers last night. With no love lost; with maximum effort given. In other words, playoff basketball. The Lakers showed respect for the Clippers after the game, and for good reason. This is a real rivalry now.
The Clippers need to play these intense games, because it's on-the-job training for the playoffs. Say whatever you want about it just being another win in the regular season. The Clippers are getting the best effort from every team they've faced. The ability to win ugly and the ability to bounce back quickly after a tough defeat are hallmarks of championship-level teams.
Lob City is far from the parade planning stage. But Chris Paul is planning. When the Clippers made this trade, it was always in the back of my mind that this might all blow up. But Paul just dropped over $8 million on a Los Angeles mansion. The Clippers will offer Blake Griffin the "Derrick Rose Rule" maximum rookie extension, something the T'Wolves wouldn't do for Kevin Love.
Lob City is here to stay. Apply for residency within.
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