'Tis the season to get all votey, celebrating the democratic process in all its forms. Tonight's matchup between the Clippers and Lakers, about as highly anticipated as a first-week regular-season game can be, is no exception. All week long, ESPN Los Angeles has offered the opportunity to weigh in on important questions concerning both of L.A.'s NBA squads.
Now let's parse some of the numbers a little:
Issue 1: Which of these statements best describes your feeling about the Lakers' 0-8 preseason record?
83 percent (as of Thursday evening) went either for "completely meaningless" or that the Lakers will "quickly" get in sync and contend for a title.
After Wednesday's showing in Portland, "meaningless" might now be too strong a word. Once again, the turnover bug that was so prevalent during the preseason came back to bite the Lakers hard, and the defense was again missing in action. (Note: Those two problems are related.) It's still absurdly early to declare these Lakers a bust, or that sweeping changes -- in the offense, in their coaching, in something -- are needed in order to save the season. But feel free to wonder how long it will take for the Lakers to look the way we all expect, what length of time is reasonable and at what point early-season struggles might impact the chances for late-season success.
Issue 5: Which team's weakness is a bigger concern for its fans?
Maybe it's the growth potential of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, maybe it's faith that Lamar Odom will pan out or maybe it's visions of last season's crew of reserves. Regardless, 59 percent of respondents went with "Lakers' lack of consistent bench production" over "Clippers' lack of size and rebounding."
No question, frontcourt depth is a question for the LAC until Odom (who played well in the opener Wednesday night) shows he's a high-end, functioning member of the basketball community again. If he's not, the Clippers are left with Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf, neither of whom is fully reliable for one reason or another. The Lakers, meanwhile, are undoubtedly going to rise and fall with how well the starters play. Still, those starters won't reach the Finals dragging along the least productive bench in the NBA, as the Lakers had last year. This year, the additions of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks, plus the return of Jordan Hill, were designed to shore up the team's depth. On Tuesday, they had their moments. Wednesday, fewer.
Issue 6: At this stage in their careers, who is more likely to deliver a win for his team with the clock winding down and the game on the line?
Given that Lakers fans outnumber Clippers faithful, that his fans are next-level loyal and his history of hitting big shots (even more recent "clutch" math is less favorable), it's no surprise to see Kobe Bryant win over Chris Paul, 74 percent to 26 percent. Who is the better choice? To a large degree, it depends on how you want to define "deliver." Even now, as his step has grown less springy, nobody in the league has Kobe's repertoire of fakes, fadeaways and footwork to make sure a shot gets off, even under the most awkward of circumstances. He's also a great passer; last year he had among the higher assist rates for non-point guards in clutch situations, as demonstrated by 82Games.com's stats.
Paul, on the other hand, puts the game on a string and on a last possession can be counted on to generate a clean shot, whether for himself or a teammate. It's hard to argue against him, and as the link above shows, statistically speaking in 2011-12 he was the more efficient and productive player. If Paul were on my team he'd have the ball late, but I certainly wouldn't object to handing Bryant the rock.
Issue 7: Do you approve or disapprove of the job Mike Brown has done so far as head coach of the Lakers?
He wasn't exactly the most popular fellow among Lakers fans heading into the season, and that was before the Lakers lost eight straight preseason games and were thoroughly outplayed in the first two regular-season contests (a basketball "black swan" moment, if you will). Under the best of circumstances, Mike Brown will struggle in the approval rating game, so given the week's events it's no surprise to see his popularity take a beating, as 56 percent -- trending up -- responded "no."
The degree to which they're justified is a discussion for another day. What's interesting is how aware Brown is of the way he's perceived and some of the reasons. He knows that the lack of gravitas along the lines of a Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich hurts. "Definitely," he said Thursday at practice. "And not only the rings. If I was an ex-player [I'd have more credibility], yada, yada, yada. Trust me, I'm an easy target. Which is OK." Moreover, while he's among the nicest human beings you'll ever meet, Brown doesn't play well in front of the media. He's long-winded, not particularly funny, comes off as overly deferential to his stars, and so on.
None of this has anything to do with his basketball acumen, but optics matter. Americans are probably more likely to be struck by lightning than have a beer with the president, yet the "Who would you rather have a beer with?" question is always relevant thanks to the influence of "likability" on getting elected.
The same principle works against Brown with Lakers fans. Nobody disputes Brown's innate human goodness, but that's not what they want from a coach. Lakers fans want their head coaches to project a sense of accomplishment and confidence -- an image. This is no job for ordinary men. Fairly or not, Brown struggles to shake that label.
The timing doesn't help, but "Yes" wouldn't have won in a landslide, even if the Lakers started 2-0.
Issue 8: Do you approve or disapprove of the job Vinny Del Negro has done so far as head coach of the Clippers?
55 percent say yes, despite the fact Del Negro's job security is constantly called into question.
This demonstrates the difference in expectations between the two franchises. Not that Clippers fans don't want to win, but the tolerance for anything less than Champagne wishes and caviar dreams is far higher than among their Lakers' equivalents.
Issue 10: Which of the following players is most likely to not live up to his team's high expectations this season?
Griffin wins in a walk, at 51 percent over Steve Nash (25) and Howard (24). Maybe it's because two Lakers were there to split the vote (or Lakers fans didn't want to pick their own guy). Or maybe it's because of the faith in Howard to reclaim his superstar status post-injury, or a belief in Nash's consistency. On the other hand, there was a lingering feeling last year that Griffin didn't quite make the leap people expected in his second season on the floor. It's not simply about the numbers -- he was better in some ways, and some of the minor statistical drops he had can be attributed to playing with better teammates -- but rising expectations for the LAC brought greater scrutiny of Griffin's game, and the holes still remain.
Now the demands on him are even larger. He needs to improve his defense and his midrange game, and most important, he needs to help get the Clippers deeper into the playoffs.
Issue 11: How concerned are you about the future of the Lakers in the post-Kobe Bryant years?
Issue 12: How optimistic are you that Chris Paul will stay with the Clippers and the team will continue to be a contender?
Fifty percent of Lakers fans say they're unconcerned because a winning product is always put on the floor; 31 "somewhat," because there's only one Kobe. The rest apparently aren't buying what Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak are selling for a post-Bryant future.
This one is interesting on a couple of levels. I suspect the numbers shifted a point or two toward concern after the first two games, but that said, imagine what the data would have said a year ago, when fans and media alike (certainly I was in that group) thought the new CBA combined with the team's salary demands meant things would get much worse for the Lakers before they improved.
Meanwhile, only 29 percent of respondents aren't at least somewhat optimistic CP3 will stay, meaning 71 percent are feeling pretty good or even better. That's confidence not normally associated with the Clippers.
I happen to think he's a near lock, short of the entire Clippers ship capsizing this season. Particularly after a strong end to a summer that started a little shaky as the Clippers waffled their way through the Del Negro coaching question, then lost G.M. Neil Olshey to Portland. But for long-suffering fans of the red, white and blue, consecutive positive summers mean a great deal.