You could write a Harry Potter-sized novel with all the developments from Friday night's embarrassing 123-87 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers that the Los Angeles Lakers would like to forget. There were the season-high 70 points allowed in the first half, the season-low eight points scored in the third quarter, the 21 turnovers that yielded 37 points for the Clippers and the 36-point margin of defeat that was the worst ever for the Lakers in this lopsided rivalry.
But if there's any greater warning the Lakers should heed from this defeat, it's the value of grooming their own superstar.
Lakers fans can coo all they want about how the Clippers wouldn't be the class of L.A. right now if not for NBA commissioner David Stern's "basketball reasons" for nixing one Chris Paul trade and greenlighting another in December of 2011. CP3 may well have become the sort of backcourt support that Kobe Bryant so desperately needed at the time, and that might have allowed the Black Mamba to take a breather once in a while as opposed to exerting himself to the point of a devastating injury.
However, Paul, who missed his fourth straight game with a separated shoulder, wasn't the catalyst behind the current Clippers renaissance. Rather, that mantle belongs to Blake Griffin, who's establishing himself as something much more substantial than "just" a human highlight reel this season.
It was Griffin whose emergence as an All-Star, a Slam Dunk champion and the league's Rookie of the Year in 2010-11 made the Clips an appealing destination for CP3. Together, they've given the Clippers a two-man foundation that should allow the NBA's longtime laughingstock to cement a more permanent and prominent place in the heart of a Purple and Gold stronghold.
Apart from Paul, Griffin has shown that he can be the foundation of a championship-contending franchise for years to come, even after CP3's prime has come and gone. The high-flying forward stuffed the stat sheet with an astoundingly efficient 33 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks in just 30 minutes. He nailed mid-range jumpers, knocked down nine of 11 from the free-throw line and served as a secondary distributor in the Clippers offense. He also put up the usual assortment of dizzying spins in the low post and jaw-dropping jams on the break.
Pau Gasol provided little counterpoint to Griffin's exploits. The sulking Spaniard managed just 10 points on a woeful 5-of-15 shooting, once again looking like anything but the temporary savior the Lakers had hoped he'd be coming into this season.
Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant could barely watch Blake's domination from the bench, rubbing his face in disbelief throughout, via @jose3030:
The Kobe Bryant Struggle pic.twitter.com/BIaHMT28yy— 3030 (@jose3030) January 11, 2014
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, Bryant could be back in action by January's end, as could Steve Nash.
But the Lakers' inevitable future without either of those all-time greats isn't all that far off. Nash could retire if his comeback falls flat, while Bryant has but two years (and an unsightly $48.5 million) left in his career after this dismal campaign.
As much as the Lakers may hope to use Kobe as a "carrot" to attract the next face of the NBA's most glamorous franchise, the fact of the matter is, it'll be tough to convince marquee free agents, very few of whom ever change addresses on the open market, to sign away their prime years to a team in transition, with a twilight Bryant as the chief attraction.
With all of the wear and tear on his 35-year-old body, there's no telling whether Bryant will ever be healthy enough again to play consistently without injury, much less produce at the levels to which we'd all become accustomed through his first 17 seasons. If you were an elite talent in your mid-to-late 20s who was chasing rings like Gollum, would you want to come to L.A. to play with Kobe for a year or two, knowing full well that the Lakers' best shot to bring in another superstar (Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge or Rajon Rondo in 2015? Kevin Durant in 2016?) would also be their longest?
Perhaps, but probably not...unless there was another young stud waiting in the wings. Unless the Lakers' plan for the future was less free-agent frenzy and more roster certainty.
Luckily, the Lakers' miserable 14-23 season, with 10 losses in their past 11 games, doesn't all have to be for naught. Despite all the sacrificing of assets that yielded the less-than-successful trades for Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers still control their own pick in what's expected to be a loaded 2014 NBA draft.
At this rate, that pick could land among the very best. The Lakers' latest loss to their hallway rivals dropped them to within two-and-a-half games of the cellar in the Western Conference, which is currently occupied by the tank-tastic Utah Jazz.
That's a much more feasible gap to close than the seven-game spread that separates the Lakers from the eighth-place Dallas Mavericks, especially with L.A. set to skip town next week for the annual Grammys road trip.
It's not at all far-fetched, then, to imagine Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Dante Exum, Julius Randle or Aaron Gordon wearing purple and gold at this time next year. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak got a good, long look at Gordon on Thursday night, when the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats escaped Pauley Pavilion with a win over UCLA.
As it happens, Gordon has often been compared to Griffin—and not without reason. Both are freak athletes, with the builds of prototypical bigs and the ball-handling and passing skills of point forwards.
The Lakers could certainly use a Griffin of their own. Whether or not he looks and plays like Blake is irrelevant. What's important is that the Lakers find themselves a young, transformational talent who can serve as the foundation of the franchise going forward.
Much like what the Clips have in Griffin. They misspent lottery picks for several years before stumbling upon the No. 1 spot in 2009. Five years later, the Clippers are the toast of the town, and could be for some time.
That is, unless the Lakers make the most of their lost season. Unless they strike it rich in a draft that could feature multiple future superstars.
Truth be told, the Lakers don't need a lecture in diversified team building. Their return to prominence since the late 1990s was bolstered by the arrival of Shaquille O'Neal via free agency in 1996, but it wouldn't have sustained this long unless then-GM Jerry West had moved to acquire Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets on draft day that same year.
Should the Lakers "tank" the rest of the 2013-14 season?
Bryant has done wonders during his 18 years in purple and gold. He's brought five championships and untold riches to the Buss family, all the while establishing himself as the most familiar face the NBA has to offer.
But his time has come and gone. Even the Mamba would've been hard-pressed to put much of a dent into a Clippers advantage that swelled to 42 points late in the third quarter.
The Lakers are doomed to mediocrity, and it's time they do what the Clippers have done. They need to find themselves a Blake Griffin-like stud this summer to excite their fans and entice other All-Star fixtures to play for a 17th banner.
Otherwise, they'll collapse into a vicious vortex of the sort that once enveloped the Clippers for decades.
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