There's a buzz in Los Angeles this morning.
That's because the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Los Angeles Lakers, are all of a sudden the talk of the town.
If you had to re-read that sentence to make sure you read it correctly, I don't blame you—after all, these are the Clippers.
The same Clippers that chose Danny Manning and Danny Ferry in the 1988 and 1989 drafts. The same Clippers that made Michael Olowokandi the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft. The same Clippers that took Darius Miles at No. 3 in 2000. Those Clippers.
This is a franchise that traditionally has combined bad management decisions with bad luck. They took Shaun Livingston with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft and then watched as his knees imploded along with their hopes for having a dynamic and tall point guard to lead them into the playoffs.
That's all in the past, of course, and all of sudden, on the morning of Dec. 15, the future, even the immediate not-too-far-down-the-road future, looks pretty bright for the Clippers.
That's because of a trade made and finalized last night that sent one of the NBA's best point guards, Chris Paul, to the Clippers in exchange for a group of very talented players and one very, very tempting first-round draft pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
The Clippers acquired Paul as well as a pair of future second-round picks in the NBA Draft. They also made a slightly less high-profile signing earlier in the week when they plucked veteran guard Chauncey Billups off the waiver wire.
The 2011-12 Clippers are, all of a sudden, a very legitimate team. There are going to be some growing pains. No team can almost completely overhaul its starting five and its off-the-bench rotations and not experience a period of adjustment.
Last season, the Miami Heat brought in two high-profile superstars in LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The season ended up being very successful, but the start of the season was a trying 9-8 first month that featured several tough losses.
That was after a full slate of preseason games and over a month of training camp. This season will feature far less adjustment time. The lockout has shortened the preseason to only two games and training camp to only two weeks. Paul has been acquired with less than two weeks left until the start of the regular season on Christmas Day.
The Clippers don't have to be good right away, though. The NBA isn't like Major League Baseball or the NFL where making the postseason can be a daunting task, often made even more daunting by a slow start. In the NBA, any team that finishes with a better than .500 record can usually count on making the playoffs, and a team playing its best basketball when the playoffs begin can be very dangerous, regardless of their seed in the playoffs.
While the Clippers pair up two mega stars in Paul and the reigning NBA Rookie Of The Year Blake Griffin, in hopes of making a deep playoff push, their local rival, the Lakers, sit and watch with stunned silence.
The Lakers have a gripe, make no mistake about it. They actually had a deal in place for Paul just one week ago.
On Dec. 8, the Lakers had a massive three-team deal in place which would have restructured the rosters of the Lakers, Hornets, and Rockets and also would have placed Paul in a Lakers uniform, but in one of the more controversial decisions in league history, commissioner David Stern vetoed the proposed deal and sent all three teams back to the drawing board.
The Lakers tried to revive the deal but found the potential cost daunting. The Hornets started looking around the league for other trading partners and they didn't have to look any further than Los Angeles, where the Clippers had a number of very tempting pieces.
Now the Lakers are left with a roster full of holes. Gone is Lamar Odom, to Dallas in return for draft picks which will help down the road but offer no help for this season. The Lakers have a definite weakness at the point guard position, where Derek Fisher is well past his clutch shooting prime and will be a major defensive liability against most of the league's younger point guards.
Andrew Bynum has limitless potential, but he's often injured and has displayed more on-court immaturity than on-court dominance.
Pau Gasol can still be a major force, but his inclusion in the original Paul deal may have left some emotional scars or internal angst toward the Lakers' organization.
The Lakers do still have Kobe Bryant. He's one of the league's greatest players of all-time. A skilled scorer, shut-down defender and a competitor without peer. Rarely can one guy do it all alone in the NBA. It takes either a combination of other stars or a deep and cohesive supporting cast. As of now, the Lakers lack either.
It's too early to declare that the Lakers' era of total domination of the Los Angeles basketball scene and sports world is over. It's not too early to suggest that the gap between the Lakers and Clippers is much smaller as of today. That gap could continue to shrink. The Clippers are a team getting better, the Lakers are a team getting older. It doesn't take a genius to figure out which direction is preferred.