Who are LA's best and brightest this season?
For years, the Los Angeles Lakers have been counted on to produce star-studded lineups featuring the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum or Kobe, Shaquille O’Neil, Karl Malone and Gary Payton. In the 80s of course they had Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy among others.
The Lakers have always been star-laden, but never before have the Clippers been so stacked as well. All of a sudden, for the first time in recent memory, the Lakers AND the Clippers are filled with name brand players that are well recognized and respected around the league as well as by the average NBA fan.
LA is currently the home of several Olympic team starters and future Hall of Fame players. This begs the question: with both teams loaded up and poised to compete for a Pacific Division title and possibly an NBA Finals berth, who are the top 10 players in Los Angeles this season?
Bledsoe is an explosive athlete that continues to get better
This may come as a surprise to some but Eric Bledsoe is poised to become a huge factor in LA this season. He has shown flashes over the course of the last two years since leaving Kentucky, but he just has not been able to stay healthy.
When he is healthy, he is a hard-nosed player that has no fear of the moment. He is very athletic and can adequately handle the point with Chris Paul on the bench.
He may occasionally exhibit his youth and make stupid mistakes, but his energy, athleticism and toughness will be a welcome asset for the Clippers this year. He showed glimpses of greatness in the playoffs last year. If he can stay healthy watch out!
Lamar is back in welcoming arms
Based on last year, this guy should be nowhere near a list of this caliber. However, based on his talent, fairly decorated career, and the fact that he is back home in L.A. (where he so desperately wants to be) gains him a spot back on this list.
In LA, whether he started or not, he was invaluable as a utility man that could handle the ball, pass, rebound and score effectively. The Lakers missed him last year, and he certainly missed the Lakers. It is no secret that when he is happy and feels at home he can be a high level contributor.
It’s still unclear what set him off last year. Was it that he did not fit in with the Mavericks? Was he distracted by his growing participation in Kardashian affairs? Was it simply that he was so hurt by the trade and could not get over how businesslike his departure was? Was he homesick because he had settled in LA where he loved the organization?
Whatever the case, we’ll never know. It was a rough year for Lamar, but we do know that Lamar at his best could be a huge addition for the Clippers. He gives them more championship experience, extra ball handling and a great deal of versatility that you can never have enough of. Look out for the old Lamar to make one more run in LA.
Can a team win with Jamal?
Usually when Jamal Crawford is on a roster you can guarantee that that team won’t go too far in the playoffs. Jamal is a good guy, and a very talented player, but some players just are not conducive to winning. He seems to be one of them.
He’s as good an open gym player as there is in the league; he’s very clutch, and when he’s hot, there is no stopping him. He can score with the best of them, but he can also be pretty inconsistent.
At the end of the day, this might be the perfect situation for Jamal. There is a ton of talent around him so there will never be any need for him to try and take over games. And especially if Chauncey Billups can stay healthy, the Clippers are blessed with another go-to offensive player when Chris Paul is not on the floor.
Having Jamal Crawford on the floor will take a lot of pressure off of the main cogs and discontinue some of the lulls that seemed to plague the Clippers whenever Paul and Billups were on the bench last year. Jamal will essentially be filling the role that Mo Williams fit so well last year. There is no coincidence that they have similar playing styles.
Having Chauncey on the floor fulltime this year to battle their neighbors could pay huge dividends.
Chauncey Billups is still a guy who can make a difference for the Clippers this year. Had he not been lost for the season due to an Achilles injury, it is very possible this Clippers team could have made a run to the Western Conference Finals or beyond. Unlike Jamal Crawford, teams always seem to be elevated and ultimately win upon his arrival.
Billups is a leader on the floor with a steadying influence and will always be known for his big shot-making ability. He is getting a little slower, and never has had the best shot selection tendencies, but you can guarantee that if he can stay healthy he will definitely team up with Chris Paul to lead this team to uncapped destiny.
Earlier in his career, he would come close to topping this list, but as his ability steadily declines, he will be the only Laker to make the bottom half of the list.
Nash is a wonderful addition to the Lakers as he adds playmaking ability and leadership to compliment Kobe Bryant late in his career. Kobe more or less seems to be subtly conceding that he needs help to get back to where he was earlier in his career. He seems to realize he cannot do it all on his own over the course of a full season and into the playoffs.
The addition of Nash seems to verify that. Nash is still one of the premier playmaking point guards in the game, and he gives the Lakers another lights-out shooter that can be counted on. More importantly, he gives them a player that can elevate the play of star Pau Gasol and incoming superstar Dwight Howard.
He still has another year of two of productive ball in him, and that may be all it takes for Kobe to equal his idol Michael Jordan in championship rings.
Blake still might be the main event in LA
Due to a training camp injury, Blake Griffin missed out on the chance of a lifetime to display his dunking prowess at the Olympics. Despite that missed opportunity, he returns back for his third year in the league with even more help than he has ever had before.
While there is some debate as to whether it is his team or Chris Paul’s, there is no doubt that Blake Griffin is the main event and probably the biggest draw due to his unparalleled athleticism and power. He is definitely one of the most exciting players in the league.
Griffin continues to develop his game despite being all-star caliber already, but if the Clippers are to become a true championship contender, he must take his game to the next level. Too often, the Clippers feed him the ball as a steady part of their offense and he seems limited in how he can score the basketball, often throwing up forced shots or crying for fouls.
Even with that room for improvement, there is no doubting the fact that he is a problem on the offensive end and a nightmare in the open court due to his relentless motor and explosive athleticism.
With all of this talent around him now, it should be easier for Griffin to operate on the offensive end and continue to develop under the leadership of seasoned vets, while sustaining a vital role in their success.
Pau Gasol for years has been the whipping boy for Laker struggles. However, at the end of the day, it was his acquisition in 2008 that led to the Lakers becoming relevant again. Sure, Derek Fisher seems to be synonymous with Laker championships (post-Showtime) and his steady leadership was an invaluable balance to Kobe’s, but it was Gasol who represented the talent upgrade that the Lakers needed to help Kobe stay in town and rack up rings like he did over the course of the last four years.
Gasol is widely known as one of the most skilled big men in the league, and if given the opportunities can still be budgeted for 20 and 10 every night. He has soft touch from mid-range, runs the floor excellently for a big man, and can pass the ball as well as any F/C in the league as well.
Now that Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are in town and there is even less pressure on Gasol to carry a heavy load. Look for Gasol to flourish in this setup. With Howard manning the low post on both ends as Bynum did, and Nash creatively getting the ball to Gasol in positions where he can score easily, this could be another All-Star year for Pau Gasol.
The next great LA big man is in town
Just when you thought the Lakers were done being championship contenders with the rise of the Thunder and the Spurs continuing to tweak and stabilize, they go out and get arguably the best center in basketball. he Lakers already had the second best NBA center, but bringing in Howard provides a significant talent upgrade.
Howard got bailed out from his misery in Orlando after employing the worst possible approach. He whined about it, he shot mixes signals, in some ways he quit on his team and was not committed to his organization.
Injuries did not help the situation, but now that he has been rescued from that situation, he is now able to do what he has wanted to do forever: play along side an alpha male superstar that can take the pressure off of him from a leadership and follow-through standpoint, allowing him to just go out and play. Sure, there will be expectations from Dwight Howard, no question about it, but with the Hollywood cast he has surrounding him in LA, all that he needs to do is be an impressive piece to a championship puzzle.
He is one of the most athletic big men ever to play the game, the most intimidating defensive force in the NBA and has a much more than adequate offensive game to go with it. Howard’s career is set to take off once again.
CP3 is not far off of the number one spot in LA. Ironically, it was his nullified trade to the Lakers that opened the door for the Clippers to grab him and set their franchise’s fortunes in the other direction. Since coming to LA, not only have the Clippers become more than a fun-and-gun team that was enjoyable to watch, but they have become an instant championship contender. Along with the leadership from Chauncey Billups, the whole tone of the franchise’s expectations, and view of the team’s quality of product have been reversed.
Paul was the starting point guard on the ultra-talented Team USA in London this past year. He is arguably the best point guard in the world. Paul is a fierce competitor and raises the level of all that play with him. And he is as clutch a player as there is in this league. If he can stay healthy, the Clippers could be poised to embark on uncharted territory.
The king of LA wants another title to go with that gold medal
When it’s all said and done, it’s going to take a lot to dethrone Kobe on this list. Since Magic Johnson, no one has won on the level that he has and played with the level of excellence that he has on the biggest of stages.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant may have supplanted him as better overall players around the league, but there is no questioning that Kobe is still the king of LA. Given the supporting cast he has been blessed with once again, he still is good enough to lead this team to the Promised Land.
He is coming off a year in which he finished second in the league in scoring and he was still a factor on Team USA in London. It is almost unfair that he now has a supporting cast that rivals any of the greatest all time, on paper at least. Not every Laker is in their prime, but being blessed with a point guard like Steve Nash to relieve him of some playmaking responsibilities and a low post presence on both sides of the floor in Dwight Howard, the Lakers are poised to make a run at his much desired sixth ring to tie Michael Jordan.
He’s the greatest player of this generation so far, and this could be a storybook ending to a magnificent career.
Grant Hill will now be sharing a building with Kobe Bryant
Grant Hill, Clippers
Ron Artest, Lakers
Antawn Jamison, Lakers