L.A. Clippers: 2011-12 Season Could Signal Changing of the Guard in Los Angeles

Louis Musto@LouisMustoContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts with Chris Paul #3 after a Clipper three pointer during the game against the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

For Los Angeles Clippers fans, it may seem bittersweet.

After years of being the laughing stock of the NBA, the Clippers boasted exciting play and an inspiring run to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-2006 season.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan provided play after play of highlight-reel quality that lifted the city of Los Angeles to its feet—and maybe even Lakers jerseys from their backs in exchange for the Clippers' red and blue.

And then, it ended.

After conquering the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, the Clippers were sent home packing by the San Antonio Spurs following four painfully quick—though not quick enough—defeats.

Their spirit was hurt, but the steps the franchise made this season were not all for naught.

The city of Los Angeles may always be a Lakers town. That is something the Clippers and its fans will have to live with, much like the Mets will never overtake the Yankees in New York.

However, while the city of New York may always be the Yankees’, the Mets were the team to watch in the late 1980s. As the Yankees departed into mediocrity after two World Series championships in the mid-1970s, the Mets conquered the spotlight with dominance, boasting exciting players and, most importantly, winning baseball.

As the envied Lakers walked off the court Monday night following a crushing series defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, you could almost hear the final gasp for air from a franchise that has dominated for nearly two decades under the wing of megastar Kobe Bryant.

The legendary coach is gone, the Black Mamba appears unable to carry his team any longer, and his supporting staff is a huge question mark—both in their play and their attitudes.

Could we be witnessing the end of one era and the beginning of another?

Perhaps the start of one that people in Los Angeles and amongst NBA fans worldwide never thought they would see.

The Clippers fell just one game short of the Lakers in the Pacific Division. They are younger, stronger, faster, more athletic and more entertaining. They have been built properly through the draft, adding the only piece they needed to through a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul.

In doing so, the Clippers have reached new heights and, should Paul, Griffin, Jordan and budding star Eric Bledsoe be along for the ride, could be a formidable team in the Western Conference—and Los Angeles—for years to come.

In his post-game column following the Lakers disappointing Game 5 loss to the Thunder, the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke asked what now?

While the Lakers appear to be a team dwindling from greatness, the Clippers are primed for success, and though their second-round failure was a swift shot to their pride, Chris Paul and his team are already focused on making sure that does not happen again.

As Plaschke, the Lakers and their fans search for answers about what happens now for one of the NBA’s most popular and successful franchises, the Clippers and their fans (both new and old) are focused on the future—a time that appears bright and full of a Staples Center, which, for the first time ever, favors some red and blue over purple and gold.


Louis Musto is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.