*Editor's Note: Steve wrote this article yesterday, before last night's game between the Lakers and the Houston Rockets, wherein the Lakers lost the game (they got crushed) and also their prized rookie, #7 draft pick Julius Randle. It appears Randle is likely lost for the season with a broken tibia, rendering an already underwhelming roster, uh... vastly underwhelming. It doesn't change much in regard to Steve's post, it only makes the gulf between the Clips and Lakes even more extreme. JR- 10/29 11:50am.v
Over at SBNation's Lakers blog, Silver Screen and Roll, they use a motion picture motif not just for the blog name but for their clippings posts as well, which they call "The Credits" and name for a different film each day. Well, if I were to name this post after a film, I'd be hard-pressed to pick between the Steve Martin comedy L.A. Story and the excellent Glenn Close/Jeremy Irons drama, Reversal of Fortune.
It happened so quickly and so thoroughly that we've pretty much taken it for granted at this point. But when you step back and really look at it, it's quite remarkable. The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the Pacific Division, among the best teams in the NBA, and certainly the best team in LA. Meanwhile, the Lakers are coming off the worst season in franchise history and don't have any hope of getting back into the playoffs any time soon, at least none that anyone can discern.
The last six NBA seasons really tell the tale. In 2009, the Lakers won the NBA title, the first of two in a row. Meanwhile, the Clippers were bottoming out -- again -- winning fewer than a quarter of their games and finishing tied for the second worst record in the NBA.
As it happens, those were the seeds of the Clippers' eventual rise, as that dreadful 2008-2009 season yielded the first overall pick and one Blake Griffin.
Since that season something remarkable has happened -- the Clippers have improved their regular season winning percentage while the Lakers have failed to do so each of the last five seasons. They are the only two teams in the league about whom you can say either of those things. In other words, the longest seasonal "winning streak" and the longest seasonal "losing streak" can both be found in the STAPLES Center.
The graph of these trend lines is pretty remarkable.
The juxtaposition of the rise of the Clippers against the fall of the Lakers is interesting enough just from a numbers standpoint. But dig a little deeper and it gets even more fascinating.
During their respective runs, the Lakers lost a beloved and highly successful owner, throwing the upper management of the team into confusion and turmoil. Meanwhile, the Clippers finally rid themselves of a terrible owner and now have what seems to be an ideal ownership situation.
For several decades, the Lakers have seemingly always had a dominant center, a legacy that stretches from George Mikan to Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O'Neal. In recent years both Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard had the chance to continue that legacy of Laker bigs. Yet last season, the player who led the NBA in rebounding and shooting percentage was Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, while the Lakers limped along without a center to speak of.
And then of course there's "basketball reasons."
In late 2011, the Lakers thought they had successfully traded for Chris Paul. Instead, NBA commissioner David Stern vetoed the trade for "basketball reasons", acting on behalf of the (then) Hornets since the league itself owned the franchise at the time.
The strike shortened 2012 season was the first one that Paul played in L.A. and of course he played it wearing red and blue, not purple and gold. It just so happens that the trend lines for the two teams almost met that year -- the Lakers won 41 of 66 games, the Clippers won 40 -- but since then the overall trend has continued and even accelerated.
It must be especially galling to Lakers fans to see Paul, the guy THEY were supposed to have, leading the Clippers past them (far past them) in the standings. Now maybe they understand how almost every other NBA fan feels, watching the likes of O'Neal and Abdul-Jabbar turn their backs on other NBA teams to be a part of the glory that is (or at least was) the Lakers.
Lately the door leading superstars into the Lakers' locker room has begun to swing both ways, as those stars leave (or in some cases never arrive at all). Henry Abbot thinks he knows why (and it's not really a stretch): no one wants to play with Kobe Bryant. And therein lies another telling difference between the Clippers and the Lakers circa 2014 -- the Clippers top stars are the kinds of players that other guys want to play with. Chris Paul is just as competitive as Kobe -- but he is also a pass first point guard who'd much rather get an open look for a teammate than score himself. And while the spotlight shines brightest on Paul and Griffin, both are humble, team-first players -- opponents don't like Griffin much, but his teammates love him.
So in contrast to a Lakers team that has one hope for improvement in the coming years -- the hope that maybe someone will take their money -- the Clippers have two top five players in their prime signed long term, one of the best coaches in basketball also in for the long haul, and are now the glamour destination. One little talked about factor that's going to hurt the Lakers' recruiting factors in the coming years is the simple fact that the Clippers are better. In the past, if you wanted to play in a mega-market, the Lakers were by far the best run organization (the Clippers, Knicks and Nets didn't provide much competition for a long time, to be honest). Now? If you want to play in a big market in warm weather, playing for the Lakers is a distant second choice to playing for the Clippers.
The Lakers have come back from the brink before. In 2007, just before they acquired Pau Gasol, they looked to be almost as big a mess as they are now. They hadn't sunk quite as far, but the writing was on the wall -- and yet they made a remarkable turnaround. Of course Kobe was a lot younger then, but the Lakers always seem to pull something off, so don't count them out yet.
But for this season at least, expect the trends to continue. The Clippers are the contender, and the Lakers are the joke. How long have we waited for this, Clips Nation?