How Long Will Los Angeles Belong to the Clippers with Lakers Rebuilding?

Josh CohenCorrespondent IIJuly 19, 2013

Chris Paul and the Clippers control the city with Kobe Bryant's Lakers reeling.
Chris Paul and the Clippers control the city with Kobe Bryant's Lakers reeling.Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers will bounce back eventually, but even when they do, their rebuilding effort means the Los Angeles Clippers will own that city for the foreseeable future.

Between Kobe Bryant rehabbing his Achilles, Steve Nash struggling to stay healthy and effective and Dwight Howard bound for Houston, the Clippers certainly have a stranglehold over 2013-14.

However, that's not really news in and of itself.

Next season will be the first that the Clips enter as the favored team, but that has been clear ever since the Purple and Gold revealed themselves to be a hyped-up mess early in the last campaign.

Even at full health, the Lakers would not be able to immediately compete with their Staples Center neighbors.

After retaining star point guard Chris Paul this summer, the Clippers went to work building talent around Paul and Blake Griffin. Between mainstays like DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes and newcomers J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, they are stacked with complementary pieces.

That's more than good enough to elevate the Clippers past the moribund Lakers; in fact, it could push them past the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs to become the Western Conference favorites.

So the next year is merely a formality in the battle for Los Angeles. Beyond that is more of an unknown, though we can assume it won't be easy for the historical favorites.

Heading into 2014-15, only Nash and Robert Sacre will have guaranteed contracts for the Lakers, while newly acquired Nick Young has a $1.2 million player option. In total, that gives them a maximum of $11.8 million in committed money; the rest is free to spend on the stacked 2014 free-agent class.

Now, Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN report that the Lakers will attempt to sign LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony next summer. With multiple max contracts to offer, Mitch Kupchak and company can make that happen on paper; the reality of the situation is more tenuous.

The financial blank slate is attractive in the same way it was for the Miami Heat when they signed James and the rest of the Big Three back in 2010. With that said, there are better circumstances—both in terms of supporting cast and comfort—available to James and Anthony elsewhere.

For James, leaving a dynasty in Miami for the unknown in Hollywood would be an improbably brash decision. If he does leave, mending post-Decision fences with the Cleveland Cavaliers and rising star Kyrie Irving makes more sense personally and professionally.

Melo already engineered his move to his hometown team years ago.

Though raised primarily in Baltimore, Anthony considers himself a son of New York. It's very possible that a free-spending Lakers franchise would give him a better chance to win than the cash-strapped New York Knicks, but Melo would not leave New York unless the Knicks crumble in 2013-14.

However, a Lakers team built around a re-signed Bryant and another star or two (depending on how much money Bryant demands) would still lack the ability and the cohesion to compete with L.A.'s second team.

The 2014-15 season belongs to the Clippers for sure; the Lakers will need that year to gel, while the Clippers' core will remain intact. For that matter, Griffin and Paul are both signed through the summer of 2017, providing a dangerous foundation to build around for the long run.

With James and some sidekicks, the Lakers would be able to challenge that supremacy beginning in 2015-16. That's what the best player in the world is capable of; Melo could not match him given the same resources, nor could anyone else on the market next summer.

It's heretofore uncharted territory for the Lakers: They are now clearly the inferior team in their city and in their arena. Unless they sign the greatest player in the world, they won't overtake the Clippers again as long as Paul and Griffin are under contract.