Why Lob City Clippers Hold Bragging Rights in LA
Kobe Bryant is still the most important player in Los Angeles. No one should or is going to dispute that. Bryant can carry either franchise on his back without a shred of lost confidence in his knees or his ability to hit the last-second shot.
The Black Mamba has the basketball instincts to curve the importance of any franchise, and no one in the league, not even Miami’s own Dwyane Wade, will roll his eyes at the argument. But, the Lakers are not the main men in Los Angeles.
They are not carrying the city’s torch in professional basketball anymore. The Lakers do not have the manpower or the confidence in their bench or their starting point guard to make the deepest strides in the playoffs.
For that reason amongst a slew of others, they are sitting below what was once their little-brother organization. Los Angeles has never been so competitive, and fans love it.
1. In-Game Explosiveness
Have you seen how explosive Blake Griffin is alone? Now that former New Orleans’ standout is standing not too far behind him throwing up lobs, Griffin’s dunking accuracy has undoubtedly improved.
Of course, there is not a statistic to prove this, but CP3 does everything for the culpability of a talented big man or shooting guard. After raising the stakes for the All-Star dunk competition with an in-game dunk that offended Kendrick Perkins more than anyone else in the league is allowed to, Griffin’s rating soared through the roof.
Not trailing too far behind is the renewed reputation of the Clippers. There is no one with the Lakers besides Andrew Bynum that even resembles Griffin's or DeAndre Jordan’s power or way to getting to the rim.
Bynum may be a solid center, but he barely does anything to impress or floor anyone watching. He’s good. But, when it comes to entertainment, the Lakers have decreased by monuments.
They had Shannon Brown. Now Phoenix does.
The Lakers also do not have the speed it takes to barrel their competition in transition, at least not adequately. Their efficiency is lacking and that takes away from what they had been.
What they are now is even blander if you take their sole provider, Kobe Bryant, out of the mix.
2. Hollywood Appeal
The Los Angeles Clippers have what a lot of people call the “likability” factor. Blake Griffin is as commercial a personality as they come.
His quirky humor and his superstar swagger make him that way. All he needs is a star on the boulevard.
Chris Paul is just a good type of guy by all standards. Unless he is battling Pau Gasol after a seemingly innocent, little brother-like pat on the head, Paul has a great personality that shows through his nature in interviews and his work in the community.
He is not a stern LA commodity that is unapproachable, which makes it so easy to root for him against the "Bad Guys," aka the LA Lakers.
The Clippers are the underdogs, which automatically makes their upward rising in the Western Conference a better story than the Lakers, who have been there for decades. Hollywood loves a great story.
The Lakers have been there and done that, which is how fans are beginning to feel about the franchise on their way down. There is no spark about the Lakers anymore.
Pau Gasol is still on the cusp of heading out of the organization. Everyone is on pins and needles waiting to see if Bynum is going to last the duration of the season. Derek Fisher is too old to make much of a difference.
With the exception of those men, who do not contribute to the “Hollywood” appeal of the Lakers’ franchise at all, none of the other members of the Lakers are worth mentioning. They do not have enough integral parts to be considered Hollywood, because there is continuous involvement of repeat offenders.
The Clippers have brought a whole new cast on the scene, at least collectively fresh.
3. Multiple Threats
The Clippers stud-walk around the league with more than just Blake Griffin to attribute their victories to.
Sorry, Laker Gang (the cutesy nickname Laker fans have formed for themselves), but the Clippers have much more firepower under their belt than you will probably have for the next half a season.
Maybe the trade deadline can produce something else to look forward to, but for now all you have is Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum.
Unfortunately, the hats cannot be hung on Pau Gasol until his position in the franchise becomes more firm. Right now, it seems as if only Bryant and Bynum are safe from elimination. Survival of the fittest.
The Los Angeles Clippers, on the right hand, have Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye, Caron Butler, Mo Williams and had Chauncey Billups. It may be a laughing matter to say that Williams is a difference maker with the Clippers because of his involvement, or lack thereof, in Cleveland before an abrupt trade switched him and Baron Davis.
However, with the Clippers he has a renewed purpose in this league, as he was sick of just being labeled Griffin’s lobber.
While Coach Mike Brown is still trying to establish how to further involve everyone so that the Lakers can become more of a threat than just living and dying by Kobe’s jumper, Coach Vinny Del Negro has a slew of young men forging a bond that will only grow from here.
There are four of the Clippers’ players in double digits, and Randy Foye is not too far behind with a close 8.4 points per. Only Bynum, Bryant and Gasol are averaging double digits in points per for the Lakers with the next closest player being Matt Barnes with 7.0 points per.
Yes, Matt Barnes.
4. 2012 Western Conference Playoffs Predictions
When you look at each franchise, which one do you see making a deeper run in the playoffs?
Even though the Clippers have been determined to be the new kids on the block, they truly have the veteran leadership to make an impact on the Western Conference playoffs. They could possibly even make a mark on the Western Conference Finals against the OKC Thunder.
Face it already! The OKC Thunder is the most reliable prediction for the Western Conference Finals as the Miami Heat is for the Eastern Conference Finals. It is just a realized truth that fans have come to accept.
There is no doubt that both teams will make it. With eight seeds slotted for the best the Western Conference has to offer, both the Lakers and the Clippers have no worries. They will make it over struggling teams such as the Golden State Warriors, the Sacramento Kings and even the Deron-less Utah Jazz.
However, when it comes to where each will fall and how they will perform amongst their comrades is another story.
In the event that the teams do not meet up, the Clippers are far more geared to make a deeper run than the Lakers for a few reasons.
They have more offensive threats than the Lakers do. They are a more complete team than the Lakers are. They have more than one man ready and willing to score the last two points to lift the squad over the opponents in a series.
They have the veteran leadership and competitive edge over the Lakers.
Finally, they have the youth and stamina to last throughout the playoffs whereas the Lakers’ most important man is on the downslope of his career and just sustained a concussion and a fractured nose.
Pau Gasol would have been a plus to have for the Lakers, but as we saw his decline in the second half of last season as well as in the playoffs, I question his postseason abilities as of late. The Lakers are coming off of an embarrassing sweep by the Dallas Mavericks and have to prove themselves in the playoffs all over again, with the exception of Kobe that is.
5. More Popular Franchise Headliner
Kobe Bryant vs. Blake Griffin. That is what it comes down to. Chris Paul is the more talented player on the Clippers but the true headliner in the franchise is Blake Griffin. Must we truly debate the validity of the statement that Kobe Bryant is the Lakers’ headliner? I did not think so. Let’s move along.
Kobe Bryant is and always has been great. But he has an infallible nature that makes him less and less interesting to talk about. When he has 40-plus-point games, the world stops and takes notice.
When LeBron is crowned the best player in the league, the world stops and takes notice. When his wife gives him a kiss after filing for divorce in the middle of his season, the world takes notice.
However, when Blake Griffin puts seven-footers on posters, the universe stops to listen. When Griffin dunks over a Kia leading to a hefty endorsement from the automotive company, the universe stops to watch.
When Griffin’s rookie season is one of the most impressive, individually, the league has ever seen, the universe stops to check the stats.
Kobe Bryant has five rings. When speaking in light of overall career greatness, there is absolutely no comparison. Bryant can shine his five rings in Griffin’s face to shut down any argument that Griffin is even close to his level professionally.
That is looking at Bryant’s entire career. Griffin has yet to be in the league, active, for even two seasons. Therefore, we are judging each man in the now. Right now, Griffin is winning the foot race as far as notoriety and potential.
The NBA operates off of the mentality that if your ceiling is no longer high, your value has ultimately depreciated. Bryant has been an immaculate player and has changed the game in so many ways, but right now, Griffin is one of the headliners of the future of the league.
As one of the youngest members of the Western Conference All-Star lineup, Griffin has won the Rookie of the Year award and single-handedly gave the LA Clippers a spot in ESPN’s rotation, with two All-Star selections.
His potential is steadily climbing, while we have seen everything that Bryant has to offer and maybe we have seen the height of what he is capable of. Griffin is still developing and everyone loves a tantalizing project. Griffin’s talent level and demeanor is in. He is a much hotter topic.
6. Comparing Franchises' Starting Lineups: Starting Point Guard
Starting Point Guard: LAC - Chris Paul vs. LAL - Derek Fisher
I’m not sure if it is because Coach Mike Brown feels some sort of loyalty for Derek Fisher as Kobe’s wingman. Or it may be the more obvious reason that there is no better option.
In either event, Fisher is apparently a weaker guard than Chris Paul has ever been. It is a pretty bold statement to make about a man that hit a bunch of clutch shots in the past, but Fisher has never been on the radar as one of the top five point guards in the league.
Chris Paul has been coasting in that conversation ever since his entrance in the league. Not to mention, Fisher has never had the ability to lead a franchise through the trenches.
He has always been by Kobe Bryant’s side and at one point in his career he had both Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Fisher has never had the responsibility of carrying an organization as the franchise player, and watching Paul do it for several years only proves his elite quality over the aging veteran that has deteriorated in value.
Starting Shooting Guard: LAC - Randy Foye vs. LAL - Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant trumps Randy Foye on all cylinders. This comparison is barely fair to the 28-year-old guard who was only propelled into this starting position after Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending injury.
Foye is still an attribute in Del Negro’s rotation, but Bryant is the Los Angeles Lakers' franchise right now. He embodies everything that he should, and would risk everything he has in order to lead his team to victory.
Bryant is getting old, but that has yet to stop him from shutting up the rumors that he is going to retire anytime soon. Bryant is a better spot-up shooter than Foye. He has better instincts than Foye.
He averages more than triple what Foye has this season. Foye has only a single 20-plus-point game this season which was against the San Antonio Spurs. Bryant has multiple 40-plus-point games this season alone.
You do the math.
Starting Center: LAC - DeAndre Jordan vs. LAL - Andrew Bynum
For a while, it seemed as if Andrew Bynum would be a project that was never completed. Like a sculpture missing the crucial curvature that made it magnificent.
Bynum was always half in and half out. His immaturity showed its crude nature late in the series against the Dallas Mavericks in last postseason’s sweep, but he has made up for it massively this season.
Bynum has worked himself into the conversation as probably second best at his position in the league, behind Dwight Howard of course.
Even though he is not the flashiest player and only played a few risqué minutes in the All-Star game, Bynum is solid in the Lakers’ franchise because of his stern finishes around the rim. His speed up the court in transition has improved since his five-game suspension was served.
Bynum is a steady flow of offense for the Lakers and has progressed in the low post as a dominant and intelligent force around the basket. His points per has improved by five from last season as his rebounds per have improved by 3.3 pushing it to 12.7.
All of this can be due to much more playing time than in previous seasons, and Bynum’s health could be one of the primary determinants as to whether or not the Lakers finish the regular season strong.
DeAndre Jordan is just coming into his talents, but with such a lofty contract with the Clippers, he must be worth the buck. The only big problem with comparing the two big men is that Jordan is not nearly as vital to the Clippers’ organization as Bynum is to the Lakers'.
There are multiple offensive threats with the Clippers that allow Jordan to sit under the basket waiting for the rebound or the occasional put-back. The Lakers are not afforded that luxury. Therefore, the pressure created with LAL forced Bynum into a more involved shooting role.
Jordan does not have to do that, which does not allow him to expose all of his talents. He could very well have the potential to be better than Bynum, but right now, it’s just not there.
Starting Power Forward: LAC - Blake Griffin vs. LAL - Pau Gasol
This is going to be a much tougher decision. While you have a more refined game with Pau Gasol, you have an air of consistency and excitement with Blake Griffin.
Griffin will give you 110 percent every time he steps on the court and will never leave you wondering if something off of the court has affected the way he has played the game.
Gasol has had a lot of trouble in the past keeping non-basketball issues from affecting him during the game, and it increases the possibility of low point totals, turnovers and lackadaisical ball movement from the proven NBA champion.
So, the question is: Would you feel more comfortable taking Gasol’s mid-range jumper yet sketchy mental toughness, or Blake Griffin’s explosive athleticism and powerhouse dunks, but without the developed mid-range game?
Different franchises operate under different systems, but I can almost bet my bottom dollar that if given the opportunity to trade Gasol for Griffin, the Lakers would hop on the opportunity at first glance. Of course, the option would never present itself, but the decision would be made in record time.
Griffin can be formed into the type of power forward he needs to be. This is only the second active season of his career, and with the help of Chris Paul things are happening that Clippers’ fans could have never dreamed of, at least not so soon.
Gasol is appearing expendable to a franchise ready to exhaust all the seasons Bryant has left in the league as such a hot commodity.
Griffin and Gasol are at two different levels in their careers, but Griffin’s ceiling of potential and hi drive place him ahead of Gasol.
Starting Small Forward: LAC - Caron Butler vs. LAL - Metta World Peace
Both Caron Butler and Metta World Peace at one point in their careers were their franchises' go-to guys. When Butler went down for the Dallas Mavericks, his absence had an undeniable impact on their season.
When Metta World Peace was at his best, his defensive mentality perplexed offenses to the highest power. He could hit the occasional three and stop a play in transition at the drop of a hat. His ferocity made him so desirable.
But now, neither has the same impact they once did on their respective organizations. Still, Caron Butler, while averaging 13.9 points per this season, is more of a factor than World Peace will ever be again.
World Peace has lost a step, or two, or three and it has cost him his reputation of defensive prowess, which has been replaced with the "sometimes he will be there, sometimes he will not" outlook on the veteran forward.
The Lakers need a little pep in their step, and whereas World Peace should be contributing to the rejuvenation of their confidence and energy, he is only a part of the lackluster problem.
His effort has decreased massively and his attitude, as told by sources in the locker room, is affecting the comfort of his squad. Butler adds to player morale, hits those jumpers that he is set up for and never hesitates to pull the trigger.
Butler takes the cake.
LAC 3, LAL 2