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I Wish They All Could Be California Teams

A meditation on the NBA State of the Golden State, sung to the classic Beach Boys tune.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The view from on high is pretty sweet.  It was always an interesting challenge to evaluate the Pacific Division as a long suffering cellar-dwelling citizen during the extended era of Laker dominance.  But now we have a new perspective--isn't that struggling l'il Laker team cute with their hodgepodge roster?  LA Linsanity, c'mon now!  Do they have a new coach yet--I can't remember.  Oh yeah, is B Scott going to play, too--that could be kind of cool.  I actually love thinking about the hapless Lakers right now, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.  They're the dessert in this meal.

California is simply a great place.  It's beautiful and magnificent in all sorts of different places and ways, there are a ton of people, millions of them actually, and a high proportion of them are cool and kind of awesome.  We've got all shapes and sizes, everything and everybody under the warm and consistently shining sun.  It's all good, very chill--what's not to like?  Okay, yes, there's all kinds of challenging stuff, lots of work to do, lots of people in need and problems to be addressed--but c'mon man, we're working on it, that's what we do, we'll get there.  I swear it's not too late.

And California has some great NBA basketball teams!  Looking at the aggregate from our own just slightly twisted Clipper point of view, one seems more interesting and entertaining than the next.  Each team has plenty of talent and personality and gumption, if you will, and they're all attractive in distinct ways.  Again, this sense of the charms of the closest kindred competition is based on holding alpha dog status, in which you know that your own talent and skill set makes you slightly bigger, faster, stronger and smarter than the other members of the pack.  When you're in the middle or down towards the bottom it's hard to see anything besides your own bitterness and frustration, and it's easy to get caught up in the evils of envy.  Clipper fans know what it's like to go into a season with an expectation of 30 wins as an optimistic prediction.  When you're in that kind of place the noblesse oblige of elite teams is part of a daily diet of rancor, much of which has its source in one's own continuing futility and hopelessness.  Ideally you develop a thick skin and a sophisticated sense of humor, a deep understanding and appreciation of irony.  And hey--isn't that us, fellow citizens?  We've done our time and earned the bemusement of our sudden lofty point of view the hard way.  We know as well or better than anyone, I would think, just how fragile our newly solid hopes are, and we know all about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  "Outrageous fortune" was, in fact, a good description of the Clippers for a long long time.  And it is only thusly, with that keen core of humility based on suffering, that we can declare ourselves entertained by our rivals.

The premise here is that the Clippers are the best, most exciting and entertaining team in the NBA--this is Clips Nation, after all.  With that said, my idea is that the other California teams are all awesome, each in their own way, with stronger and better and more compelling identities than the "standard" NBA team.  Call it massive West Coast bias if you must, but that's just what things look like from our sleepy little haven where the mountains meet the sea.

Let's start with the Golden State Warriors.  What a team!  What a great story of rising success and young stars commanding the stage just as they enter their primes!  The Warriors are a great franchise with a rabid fanbase and a dynamic new ownership group--and they brought in the logo, Jerry F__ing West, as a key consultant.  When Jerry West, who seems to have incalculable Jedi-level basketball savvy, tells you that you don't want to give up Klay Thompson in order to bring in Kevin Love, you kinda gotta listen to him, no?  Andrew Bogut, a very nice player more recovered from more injuries than in recent years past, and his jersey pulls and WWE moves aside, the Dubs are an elegant and exciting basketball team, and their new coach, Steve Kerr, should replace the benighted thuggery and lame intimidation techniques of his ridiculous predecessor with sharper execution and a more genuine core toughness.  The Warriors are more than worthy of Clipper fans' respect, and the rivalry between the two teams is about as healthy and intriguing as it gets.  Most importantly, the Warriors are really fun to watch, and easy to like, and the post-Mark Jackson version of the team figures to be even more so.  They might even be more fun than the Clippers--yeah, okay, that's probably not true, not for us at least--and it's a difficult task to find a more entertaining team.  The Warriors are extremely close cousins to the Clippers, and as the Clippers eye the next bridge on the path, the one that gets them to the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors are looking to cross over the one that the Clippers just cleared, establishing themselves as one of the top 4 teams in the West, a clear cut above the second rung of playoff teams.  The level of competition in the West is nuts, of course, but GSW is well-built and prepared to match up against anybody.  It's interesting to compare their makeup to a current preview darling, the Cavs, the team that ended up landing Kevin Love (after signing LeBron).  Newly-formed teams face growing pains and challenges in the NBA, as it takes time to work out roles and rotations and basic chemistry (although the Big Three Celtics team is a significant exception.)  By keeping the Splash Brothers intact along with most of the rest of the roster, the Warriors will remain on their rising trajectory, aided by getting guys healthy who were out last year healthy.

We've taken a good look at some of the MLE moves that have affected the Clippers, the Kings grabbing Darren Collison and the Clippers putting the priority on a front court backup, getting Spencer Hawes.  But the Warriors' move, seemingly approved by the Logo, is somewhat epic for Clipper fans, as the Dubs paid a whole lot of money to Shaun Livingston.  Livingston will never reach the level of NBA superstar that we once hoped he might, and there is still something sad and sickening about his old injury, but his hard work and steadiness and skill have made him a stalwart rotation guy, and he's another player that we have to be happy to see getting paid.  His role at GSW will be to replace what the Warriors lost when Jarrett Jack got away, and he'll bring his own set of intangibles.  Is the Logo a step ahead, and thinking about Livingston playing PG with Curry and Thompson on the wings, combining with "Warrior Barnes" (as opposed to "Clipper Barnes") and Iggy playing center, the ultimate Don Nelson small ball?  Maybe that's a stretch, but Livingston is a good and even scary fit up there.  Him landing with the Warriors is bittersweet for Clipper fans, a bit hard to handle. That's the general taste GSW leaves with Clipper fans, savory and slightly bitter:  a worthy opponent.

Bring on da Kingz! then, changing subjects.  What a beautiful team this is, and funky as all get out.  It's all about Mr. Boogie Cousins, a beast and a good guy in his own way, just a little confused at times--he's a true Big Man, and one of the best in the game, and we know what that means--he's quirky!  For Clipper fans it's easy to put Boogie in the Time Machine, to see him drafted by the Clips with their #1 or #2 lottery pick, DTS surrounding him with marginal talent at best and weird coaches and the whole DTS weird vibe, and Boogie spiraling down a dark rabbit hole of frustration and dysfunction.  And then in that nature vs. nurture scenario, Boogie in fact has a screw loose because he's been driven mad by the noxious fumes of 90's-era Clipperdom, and he turns into a journeyman NBA sizable stiff (kind of interesting to look at the career arc of LO along similar lines, now that it's complete.  LO won his titles, but it didn't end great.)  But no!  Those days are gone (thank FSM).  Instead we get to see Boogie mature along a rapidly ascending timeline, and he and Anthony Davis are expected to show the Team USA bump most dramatically.  Boogie's cowtown team has an intriguing successful tech owner not unlike our own Balmer, but more exotic and thus a little funky I guess.  The Kings are Doing Stuff, but a lot of it is shuffling deck chairs while Boogie comes of age, as they cast about for good fits.  Cousins' growth curve is quite interesting in comparison to Jordan and Griffin, and he has pushed those guys around at times, and walked himself out the door in others.  The big difference there is that DJ and Blake get to play with Chris Paul (and each other), while Boogie has been the plucky, easily confused leader of a lovable (or not) gang of misfits.  The Kings have been fun and entertaining for a while now, especially if you like your teams a little funky, but the new owner and some of his bold moves have made them even more beguiling, adding a ray of fleeting hope to the previous kaleidoscopic futility.

It's just a weird mix.  The Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams deals seem like classic patsy parlays, but those guys can play basketball, especially Gay.  Tyreke Evans is gone, off to confuse another team (the Pellies), and Isaiah Thomas is in Phoenix, which makes no sense, unless the NBA is planning to turn into a 6'8"-and-under league (GSW is ready.)  When you go down the list you realize how hard it can be to build a roster of guys who are actually shaped in the standard mold of NBA position players.  Clipper fans remember the unbalanced Paul-Mo Williams-Foye-Billups-Bledsoe backcourt that was in place after Eric Gordon left in the trade for CP3, and it takes time to sort these things out.  And now the Kings have brought in Darren Collison, which provides some standardization and makes the team more intriguing for Bruin Clipper fans, but it's still a relatively modest MLE deal that's not going to change things in the standings.  The Kings remain essentially the Boogie Show, and that's good enough for me.

Did I just say "not going to change things in the standings"--don't we want to see if the Kings are better than the Lakers?!  Now that's a match up--and it shows how much fun the Kings can be, while it says... something about the Lakers.  Rudy Gay vs. Kobe, Collison vs. JLin/Steve Nash (fun), Boogie and his gang of PFs, which includes Reggie Evans (!) against the immortal Sacre-Boozer-Hill-Randle mashup, it's all good, a little like watching street ball.  It really doesn't get better than this, when the Clippers are legitimate contenders (and a lead story at ESPN NBA on media day, competing with the Cavs for top billing, while San Antonio and OKC keep their profiles much lower), and the Lakers are blithely amusing.  The Los Angeles Bizarro NBA world that we live in continues to get stranger.  Now the Clippers have an engaging and engaged free-spending owner, while the Laker management system seems defensive and beleaguered and confused, trying to work its way out of morass of mistakes and misfortune, and somehow only digging a deeper hole.  But hey, as long as you don't care and aren't invested in actual Laker success, could it be any better?  That's an entertaining team, and the last installments of the Kobe Show should be high drama.  If the Lakers were a legitimate threat it would be a different story.  But as fans of a team that was always marginal at best for so long, we can see all the signs of a desperate and disordered train wreck in waiting.  If everything fits just right, and everybody stays healthy, and Kobe does good Kobe things, and not enraged and poisonous bad Kobe things, well then who knows what could happen--let me tell you, Laker fan, we know, we were on that road for years and even decades, and there's no light in that tunnel now or in the foreseeable future.  We'll check back again about Laker relevance when the US has a new president, but I wouldn't get my hopes up.  In the meantime, the Lakers are there to provide entertainment for Clipper fans--they figure to be fascinating and extremely watchable.  Their quest, the same one as Sacramento's, is to hold it together and find ways to win and hover around .500, no small feat in the West, and squeak into the playoffs.  We know that these things don't really work out, but that's no way to talk or think at the beginning of October--this is the time for hope.  Speaking from experience, the first thing you want to watch out for are training camp injuries, those are super annoying and debilitating, and they can start the snowball going right away.  The wheels can easily come off one way or another by the All-Star break, and then a pluckless Laker team would be ugly and pathetic and boring--but by that time we would be getting focused and starting to set playoff calibrations, the all-important second season in sight, while the also-ran teams play things out and fade from view at the same time.  So the Lakers are dressed up in their cheesy Hollywood faded Showtime glitz finery now, and we're a little tipsy about the party starting and choosing not to notice all of the plastic surgery and fakery propping things up for the time being.  (And thank goodness the Clippers traded in their own reptilian, grotesque, worst-of-LA owner for some one who, you know, dresses like a dad, like a normal guy.)  Bring it on--you look sensational, Lakers.  I mean that.

And we know better than anything else that the Clippers are hardly immune to misfortune.  Last season was exquisite torture in its own magnificent way.  The bold new edifice might well crash down ignominiously as in years past, even though things seem pretty solid right now.  But if it does, hey, it's the Clippers, right?  In the meantime, let's enjoy the fact that one California team is better and more compelling and entertaining than the next, a cluster of close-to-home NBA goodness.  With, for now and on paper, the Clippers on top.  We'll take it.