I know, I know. The Lakers have won a million championships. Names like Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal have donned the purple and gold. The last decade belonged to the Lakers with not just one, but two groups of championship teams.
Shaq’s squad dominated the early 2000s, bulldozing their way through the Western Conference every year and were barely challenged by whatever meager team made it out of the East. More recently, Kobe Bryant found another big man (although he was a little less girthy then “Superman”) in Pau Gasol and went to three straight NBA Finals.
The Lakers are less than two years removed from their most recent title. Although undoubtedly past his prime, Kobe Bryant is still playing at a high level. His 25.3 points per game last season was on par with his career average. Andrew Bynum is as healthy as he has ever been (although Laker fans shouldn’t hold their breath as Bynum is due to slip on some stairs any day now). The only piece to the recent championship puzzle the Lakers no longer have is Mr. Khloe Kardashian, as he was recently shipped to the Dallas Mavericks.
Despite all of this, for the first time in a while (and by a while I literally mean, ever) the Lakers will not be the biggest story in Los Angeles this season. That distinction belongs to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Chris Paul’s arrival to the City of Angels means the arrival of a potential triple-double threat every night. He’s got eyes in the back of his head like Jason Kidd and shooting touch like Mark Price. Paul plays with fire and intensity, never making you question whether or not he is “taking the night off” like so many NBA players do.
There are many who question his durability, saying he is injury prone. In four of his first six seasons, Paul has played in at least 78 of the New Orleans Hornets’ games. For those curious about how Paul might perform under pressure in the postseason, you need only to look back as far as last spring.
In the first round of the 2010 playoffs, Paul nearly single-handedly led an overmatched Hornets team to victory against the Lakers. Kobe and company survived in six games.
Paul’s regular season career averages of 18.7 points per game, 9.9 assists per game and 47 percent from the field are outdone by his career postseason numbers: 22.0 points per game, 11.1 assists and 49 percent from the field.
When it matters most, Chris Paul gets it done (and I cannot overstate that other than David West, Chris Paul has never had anywhere near the talent he will be surrounded by with the Clippers).
From a hype standpoint, there is no question the Clippers buzz won’t go away anytime soon. But will the product on the court justify it? On paper, the new-look Clippers match up well with almost any team at every position. While depth is certainly going to be an issue, it is hard not to like the top six for the Clippers.
DeAndre Jordan is a shot-blocking machine who is steadily improving and will only have trouble with centers like Dwight Howard. Blake Griffin is quickly becoming the Chuck Norris of the NBA, and he’s only played one full season.
Caron Butler is a matchup nightmare at small forward. Mo Williams is an extremely serviceable guard when he’s not asked to be the No. 1 option like he was for the Cleveland Cavaliers after LeBron left. And if you are foolish enough to think that Chauncey Billups was not a key pick up for the Clippers, Mr. Big Shot will see you in the playoffs.
The most excitement surrounds the Paul-Griffin connection. While we are always quick to make historical comparisons, it really is hard not to go straight to Stockton and Malone with this one. Both players bring it hard on every possession, and you have to believe that playing with one another will only raise their game up yet another notch.
The Clippers may need to rip the roof off of the Staples Center to make sure Griffin doesn’t smash his head on the arena rafters while retrieving 40-foot alley-oops from CP3.
The NBA season hasn’t even tipped off yet, and the whole world has hurled itself onto the Clippers bandwagon, myself included. The only people who haven’t are die-hard Lakers fans and people on the Tim Tebow bandwagon.
And maybe we are all wrong. Maybe the Clippers curse and the aura of Donald Sterling will be too much, even for this talented roster. Maybe Chris Paul will forget how to throw the lob and Blake Griffin will forget how to catch it. Maybe Chauncey Billups is washed up and DeAndre Jordan will regress after signing a big contract.
Maybe when it’s all said and done, the Lakers will be headed toward the 2012 NBA Finals and the Clippers will bow out in the first round of the playoffs.
But for lifelong Clipper fans (all six of them) and those of us just joining in, for the first time ever there is a very real possibility that the answer to every question above is: Maybe not.
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