The Los Angeles Clippers should quit while they're ahead. You see, it doesn't matter what deals they pull off, how many games they win next season or which up-and-coming young singer, comedian or Twilight star buys courtside seats; the Clips will never be the Lakers, and they'll never win the battle of L.A.
Never. Even if they finish ahead of the Lakers in the standings or win an NBA title (highly unlikely, though not impossible).
Though many believe there's a battle for hard-court supremacy in the City of Angels, it's the Lakers who are, and will continue to be the dominant basketball presence. There's just no denying the fact that the Lakers have owned L.A. since the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.
And nothing will change that.
I can already hear hardcore Clippers fans pounding away on their laptop keyboards to tell me that I'm crazy, that I've gone off the deep end, don't know what I am talking about and will rue the day I ever thought to write such a ludicrous column. And then those same fans will wake up from their bad dream and realize I was right all along.
If you had asked me about the Lakers in May or June, I might have sounded a different tune. The team had just been bounced from the playoffs for the second consecutive year and looked tired, disorganized and nonchalant in the process. They had no first-round draft picks in June, were way above the salary cap and had just a mini mid-level exception in an empty bag of tricks as they headed into summer and a dismal looking offseason.
In other words, the Lakers were walking wounded—head honcho Jim Buss sounded like General George Custer circling the wagons when he was asked by L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers what he and management might do to get the Lakers moving in the right direction.
"I think changes are going to be made moving Pau (Gasol) lower to the basket," Buss revealed to Simers. "We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than change in personnel.''
That's it? No big trades? No replacement for Ramon Sessions, who opted for free agency? No strengthening of the bench?
What a difference a day, week and month make...
Unless you've been away for a very long time with no cell reception, you know that the Lakers did a little more than ask Pau Gasol to play closer to the basket. Working mainly with spit and polish and nice things to say about the weather in Orlando, the Lakers managed to pull off two of the biggest player personnel moves in franchise history.
The acquisition of point guard Steve Nash from Phoenix on the Fourth of July surprised everyone, including Nash. Less than a month later, L.A. pulled another rabbit out of the hat when Orlando, Philadelphia and Denver agreed to a four-way blockbuster that sent Lakers center Andrew Bynum to the City of Brotherly Love and brought Dwight Howard to Los Angeles.
Will wonders never cease? Apparently not if your team is the Los Angeles Lakers. Much like the New York Yankees in baseball, the Lakers are just one of those professional sports powerhouses that transcends its sport, managing to represent a culture for winning that dates back to its earliest days as a franchise.
And similar to the Yankees, the Lakers seem to do whatever it takes to be a winner and maintain a championship atmosphere each and every year.
Either Jim Buss had an epiphany about how to run a franchise or his father Jerry called him up to remind him what his job really is: Step back and allow team management the opportunity to put a product on the court that will entertain 19,000 fans and maintain the Lakers as perennial contenders for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Whatever the cost.
The Lakers will continue to pay exorbitant luxury taxes to the NBA, as per the league's collective bargaining agreement. But with its massive new 20-year, $4 billion TV contract with Time Warner set to kick in this fall, L.A. will have more than enough in reserve to pay both "Peter and Paul." The only ones who will feel "robbed" are the other teams in the league, including the Clippers.
As Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register reported last year when that television deal was consummated:
"Let’s pause and appreciate how much money one club, starting next season, will get per year all to itself just from local TV: $200 million…when Forbes values the entire Milwaukee Bucks franchise at $258 million.
"It leads to a very good question: whether the NBA’s new supposedly prohibitive luxury-tax penalties to start in 2013 are really going to stop the Lakers from continuing to throw money at their problems – because they’ve solved a lot of them very well that way without having this new billionaire boys’ club."
Commissioner David Stern, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and others around the league may not have a soft spot for the Buss family and their storied franchise, but that matters little to the local, national and international faithful who call themselves Lakers Nation.
Heading into a new season, the Lakers look like one of the teams to beat (the Heat and Thunder being the other two). Thunder forward Kevin Durant called L.A. "the best team on paper" in the NBA, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
As for the Clippers: They seem to have finally found an identity worth preserving after several nomadic decades of utter despair. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will anchor a team which finished just one game behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division (40-26) and seems destined for greater heights.
Expect some hard-fought skirmishes on the hardwood this fall between the Clippers and Lakers. There is no love lost between these two teams.
But with a starting lineup featuring four future first ballot Hall of Famers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash), an enormous television contract that assures them of stars for years to come, an owner who does whatever it takes and a resume that includes 16 world championships and many of the game's legendary superstars, the Lakers will continue to wear the crown as Top Basketball Banana in Los Angeles for years to come.
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