A battle for LA begins as the Lakers and Clippers head into the 2019-20 season
Whether or not the Clippers want to admit it, a new West Coast-West Coast battle has emerged in the NBA for the soul of Basketball in Los Angeles. Who will win?
The 2019 Free agency went perfect for the Los Angeles Clippers and less so for the Los Angeles Lakers. Can the Lakers maintain their monopoly over the Los Angeles Basketball community?
The Clippers have had seasons where they have a better record, but they have never been title contenders. Also, they have never been seen as an equal when it came to free agents and superstars making their decisions. They have not been a more desired team in the past. The Clippers had a better record the last two seasons, but Lebron still signed with the Lakers during the 2018 free agency period and Anthony Davis in the middle of the 2018-19 season demanded to be traded to the Lakers.
Even though the Clippers have been better on paper in years past, the Lakers always been the preferred destination. The Lakers and Clippers are neck and neck in terms of preference among free agents and basketball cache for the first time in NBA history. Also, this is the first time that the two best teams in Basketball have been in the same city. This makes for an interesting dynamic.
The Clippers had an impressive introductory press conference for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Site of Doc Rivers, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George on the same stage is a pretty impressive and intimidating site for all of Basketball.
However, there were a few key takeaways from the press conference.
After listening to Kawhi and George speak in the conference, it is clear that Doc Rivers seemed like an anchoring point for the Clippers this offseason in attracting the two stars. People say the Lakers don't have a good head coach. Well, what about Jason Kidd.? Just kidding. Or if the Lakers had hired Ty Lue, they might have gotten Kawhi. Ty Lue is a championship coach like Doc Rivers.
It also felt like the city of Los Angeles was a big draw for both players, and the chance to be close to family made a difference for both players. It appears that George and Kawhi are from Los Angeles, and that is the market they wanted to be in for this stage of their careers.
There were players not on stage that deserve some credit for the Clippers landing Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. First, Damian Lillard deserves some thanks for being the catalyst for dissolving the entire OKC Thunder Franchise. The Los Angeles Clippers should literally retire Damian Lillard's number. If the OKC Thunder had been title contenders last season or at least made to the western conference finals in the 2019 playoffs, then George may have stayed with OKC for the duration of his contract.
The OKC Thunder did have a dynamic duo on their roster, but it did not work out because they did not have the necessary role players to put around Russ and George. The Clippers have a foundation that OKC did not have last season. At the end of the day, OKC could not make it work with Russ and George.
Also, there is Kevin Durant. If KD had been healthy and elected to stay with the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi may have teamed up with Lebron and AD so he could have competed for a title. Similar, having KD and Kyrie in the Eastern Conference may have pushed Kawhi to the Western Conference.
Kawhi's "decision" in the 2019 free agency, really the summer of Kawhi, showed that this is a player's league. I have said this before, but I have never seen a player take the NBA hostage the way Kawhi did in the 2019 free agency. Kawhi's decision embodies player empowerment because it shows just much how much power players have in the NBA at this moment. Notably, the lengths that teams were willing to go to get Kawhi Leonard this offseason.
The same sentiment can be said about Paul George's trade demand going into the second year of his contract. Also, people forget that George passed up an opportunity to sign with the Lakers last summer. However, we will never know what decision Kawhi and Paul would have made if Lebron had not been on the Lakers.
It's a battle for the Los Angeles basketball community, and it's at the forefront of the NBA. It's not an East Coast-West Coast battle. It's a West Coast-West Coast battle in the NBA. It's more like Eastside vs Westside battle in basketball. Ok, I thought that was funny. It's definitely an exciting set-up for the 2019-20 NBA season. The Lakers and Clippers are two different teams top to bottom. The Lakers are a showtime time at their core, and the Clippers are more like a blue-collar showtime; really, the Clippers are showtime on the defensive end of the floor and the Lakers are showtime on the offensive end of the floor. However, AD is considered to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA. They are both the two best teams in the NBA.
I know Kawhi he did not beat Lebron in the playoffs last season, but he played well enough in the 2019 playoffs to have win the title for "best player in the world." He demonstrated a level of play in the playoffs that we have not seen in a long time in the NBA. The way he led the Raptors team to a championship was just so impressive. Right now, this is Kawhi's league.
However, even with Kawhi, the Lakers have a slight edge over the Clippers to win the title next season because the Lakers have more players on their roster that have made deep playoff runs. The Lakers also have more depth on their roster, period. The Clippers have a cluster of better defenders, but the Lakers have a bunch of veteran players that have "been there and done that." Even AD has been the face of a franchise and led the Pelicans to sweep the Trail Blazers in the first round. Demarcus Cousins has played in the finals and been the face of a franchise. Danny Green, Rondo, and JaVale McGee are champions.
In a 7-game playoff series, I would give the Lakers a slight edge over the Clippers because of the playoff experience on their roster. The Lakers are also a deeper team when you consider they also have Kumza, Avery Bradley, and KCP on their bench. Kawhi is the only player on the Clippers that has made deep playoff runs and beaten fierce competition in the playoffs. Kawhi has won at that level, but none of the other Clipper players have not won at that level. Plus, Rondo and Boggie, if they can turn it on in the playoffs, would put the Lakers over the top.
However, many factors could come into play to hurt the Lakers success, including the health of many of their players. Many, if not all of the Lakers core group of players have had injury concerns in the past.
Los Angeles now has the two best duos and two best teams in the NBA. A dual is about ready to take place.
Paul George mentioned that the Clippers are trying to build their own legacy, and that is what the Clippers have started this offseason. But this is a battle of LA, whether or not the Clippers want to admit it. And there is not a clear favorite.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Michael Mannen