Remember when the Los Angeles Lakers notched three straight finals appearances, winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010? Remember when the Los Angeles Clippers were a mediocre, sub .500 team throughout those years? Looks like the tables have turned in L.A. Although they are not winning championships yet, the Clippers are the ones fighting for top playoff spots, while the Lakers are sinking at the bottom of the Western Conference fighting for ping pong balls.
Over the past seven years, there has been an obvious power shift in L.A., and it all started December of 2011. The Lakers, fresh off a four-game sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks after winning back-to-back titles, were looking to reconstruct their championship roster.
On December 9, 2011, the Lakers, New Orleans Hornets, and Houston Rockets rocked the NBA world with a blockbuster deal. The Lakers acquired Chris Paul, while the Rockets obtained Pau Gasol. The Hornets received Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and multiple draft picks in the deal.
The Lakers were ready to build a super team by placing Chris Paul in the backcourt with Kobe Bryant, and many believed that they were out to get Dwight Howard next. However, Commissioner David Stern quickly put a stop to that by nixing the trade 30 minutes after the teams had agreed in principal.
As a result, all the players involved were to remain with their original teams, and one player in particular was upset that he was actually traded. That player was Lamar Odom, who was extremely emotional that the Lakers had the notion to trade him and actually did before the trade was vetoed. Odom’s emotions got the best of him, and the Lakers were forced to trade him to avoid commotion between Odom and the front office.
The Lakers dealt Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks for a $9.3 million trade exception. Meanwhile, the Clippers were beginning their plot to steal Chris Paul before the start of the 2011-2012 shortened season.
On December 15, 2011, the Clippers sent a package deal to the New Orleans Hornets for Chris Paul. The package included Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu, and a 2012 first-round pick for Paul.
Three days prior to acquiring Chris Paul, the Clippers re-signed DeAndre Jordan to keep him in the frontcourt with Blake Griffin. Just like that, the Clippers had a trio of their own with Paul, Jordan, and Griffin.
They acquired the nickname, “Lob City,” due to the amount of alley-oops that Paul would toss to the athletic bigs, Jordan and Griffin, and the Clippers were rolling, as they attained a 40-26 record, good for fifth place in the West. Despite losing out on Paul, the Lakers still had a better record than the Clippers that season, capturing a 41-25 record, which was good for third in the West. Both teams were pretty much even that season.
The Clippers took out the grit and grind Memphis Grizzlies in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, while the Lakers were pushed to seven games by the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers and Lakers were then both eliminated in the second round. The Clippers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, and the Lakers lost 4-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
During the 2012 offseason, while the Clippers were looking to deepen their roster, the Lakers were looking to make blockbuster moves. The Clippers snatched former Laker and journeyman, Matt Barnes as well as Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Ryan Hollins, Ronny Turiaf, and Lamar Odom, while the Lakers gave up a handful of draft picks and their $9.3 million trade exception to obtain the aging Steve Nash.
In addition to Nash, the Lakers made another reverberating move by dealing for Orlando Magic’s superstar center Dwight Howard. The Lakers believed to have a super team this time around, with a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest), Pau Gasol, and Dwight Howard.
Just when the Clippers thought that they had the upper hand in L.A., the Lakers made big time moves to overshadow them, but everything started to fall apart for the Lakers within weeks of the regular season.
Nash fractured his leg, Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown only to hire Mike D’Antoni, and Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard were not coexisting in the frontcourt. By mid-January the Lakers were 17-25, and it was turning out to be a disastrous season for them until Kobe Bryant took over and helped the Lakers barely achieve a playoff spot before going down with a season-ending Achilles injury. The Lakers were brutally swept by the Spurs in the first round.
The Clippers, meanwhile, were enjoying a terrific season, as they finished fourth in the West with a franchise-best .683 win percentage. However, despite a wonderful season, the Clippers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the revengeful Memphis Grizzlies in six games. In addition, the Clippers chose to not re-sign head coach Vinny Del Negro after the conclusion of their season.
After the dismissal of Del Negro, the Clippers kept heading into the right direction, as they squandered a first-round draft pick to attain Doc Rivers, a coach with championship pedigree. The Clippers also made a significant trade during the offseason, as they shipped Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe in exchange for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick.
As for the Lakers, they were down on their luck, as they lost Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets during costless agency. Many believed Mike D’Antoni’s coaching style was the reason Howard left. Admittedly, the Lakers hired D’Antoni to please the aging Nash rather than fulfilling the needs of the 27-year old Howard.
In addition, Kobe Bryant was using the summer to recover from his Achilles injury, while Nash was battling nerve issues in his back. The Lakers handed out several one-year contracts and did not make any other major moves despite losing Howard. They did, however, amnesty Metta World Peace to relieve some cap room.
The season kicked off, and the Lakers surprised the NBA with a 10-9 start. After those 19 games, Kobe Bryant made his much anticipated return to the floor. Unfortunately, after just six games, Bryant hurt himself again, this time fracturing a bone in his knee. He sat out the rest of the year, as his teammates also started to endure injuries one-by-one.
All of a sudden, all playoff hopes were gone, and the Lakers defense looked awful. The Lakers finished 14th in the West at 27-55, which was the sixth worst record in the league. After the season, Mike D’Antoni stepped down as Lakers coach because the Lakers did not want to pick up his team option for the 2015-2016 season.
While the Lakers were a lottery team, the Clippers turned in another excellent season, finishing third in the West with a new franchise-best 57-25 record. The Clippers went to the playoffs for a third consecutive time for the first time since 1973-1976. They beat a gritty Warriors team in seven games but lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round in six.
The 2014 offseason was another completely miserable summer for the Lakers. They had high hopes of signing a superstar costless agent due to the large amount of cap space they had, but they failed to sign anyone significant. What’s worse is that they lost Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls and replaced him with Carlos Boozer. The Lakers handed out some more one-year deals, but they made certain to lock up Nick Young for the extended future.
Bryant was using the summer to recover from his latest injury but this time, he was able to return for training camp and preseason. Right from the first game of the preseason, Kobe proved that he could still play at a high level despite all the injuries and his age. By the time the season started, Bryant’s ability to keep playing at age 36 was no longer in question, but the roster the Lakers built this past summer was certainly mediocre. What’s more, Steve Nash went down with a season-ending back injury.
Additionally, number seven overall pick Julius Randle went down with a season-ending injury as well when he broke his leg in the first game of the season. All the struggles the season prior to get a top pick went to waste for the Lakers, at least for this year.
While the Lakers failed in costless agency once again and are currently suffering from injuries, the Clippers had another magnificent offseason. They added Jordan Farmer, Spencer Hawes, Ekpe Udoh, and Chris Douglas-Roberts to solidify their bench. Although the Clippers started the season off slowly, they are now back to supremacy and are sitting sixth in a tough Western Conference.
Meanwhile, the Lakers are once again 14th in their conference with an atrocious record of 8-19. The Lakers are the worst defensive team in the league, and they are well on their way to another lottery season. When was the last time this Lakers franchise missed the playoffs back-to-back years? Coincidentally, it was during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons, which were the years when the Clippers were a strong playoff team.
There is no question that the Clippers will continue to be a playoff worthy team for the next few years, but the Lakers are in a tough spot. They will have cap room this upcoming summer once again, but will they be able to entice top costless agents with an aging Kobe Bryant?
Lakers management has dug themselves into a very deep hole that will be incredibly tough to climb out of. There seems to be no sense of direction for this Laker team, and many expect another losing season for them next year.
It has been absolutely embarrassing and frustrating for the Lakers, who have always been known for their supremacy over the rest of the league in year’s past. They have 16 championships under their belt and have only missed the playoffs six times in their 66-year franchise history.
The fans of the Lakers are not accustomed to losing and at this point, they are irritated that there is another team in Los Angeles outshining their beloved Purple and Gold.
Now it’s time to wait and see if there will be another power shift in L.A. or maybe a balance in power.