Lakers suddenly looking up to Clippers

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11
12:34
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Nick Young was born in Los Angeles on June 1, 1985, eight days before the Lakers won the first of six championships they would capture in his lifetime before Young graduated high school.

Over the same time period during Young's youth, the Los Angeles Clippers made the playoffs on only three occasions, winning a total of four games in those three first-round exits.

[+] EnlargeD'Antoni
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesCoach Mike D'Antoni and the rest of the Lakers have had to defer to the Clippers this season and may have to follow the same path to rebuild.
It was from that perspective, and also from the perspective of someone who has now played professionally for both the Clippers and the Lakers, that Young flippantly dismissed his team's 123-87 loss to their Staples Center cohabitants on Friday, the worst loss the Lakers have ever suffered at the hands of the Clippers.

"They always play good during the year," Young said of the Clippers. "We'll see how it comes down to postseason."

Recent history supports Young's criticism. The Clippers lost four straight games to Memphis to be bounced out of the first round in last year's playoffs (albeit after being up 2-0 to start the series), just like the Lakers lost four in a row to San Antonio, despite the fact the Clips won 11 more games than the Lakers in the 2012-13 regular season. Long-term history supports Young's dig even more. The Lakers, of course, hold a 16-0 edge in championships, a fact that seems to make the Clippers so uncomfortable that coach Doc Rivers chose to cover up the Lakers' banners with giant, billboard-sized posters of Clippers players during home games.

Maybe it was just tough talk to try to get over having maybe even a worse night individually (Young shot 3-for-14 from the field with three turnovers) as the Lakers did as a team. Maybe it was just Swaggy P being Swaggy P and him saying something to try to get under the skin of some of the Clippers players, many of whom he considers friends, for the next time the two teams meet on March 6.

The fact of the matter is, despite the Lakers' rich history being untouchable no matter what the Clippers accomplish going forward (Kobe Bryant quipped to Gary Payton in an interview earlier this season, "It may be the Clippers' city one day; I'll be dead and gone by then. My kids' kids' kids' kids will probably be dead and gone by then. There's just too many banners to catch up to."), it's the Lakers who should be envious of the Clippers' future.

If it already wasn't abundantly apparent, Friday's embarrassment of a loss -- the Lakers' 10th in their past 11 games -- only confirmed that the Lakers are firmly entrenched in rebuilding mold.

And while for the past 30 years it seems the Lakers were able to maintain a perennial-contender status with some savvy front-office moves (drafting Magic Johnson, trading for James Worthy, trading for Bryant, trading for Pau Gasol) and some deep pockets (signing Shaquille O'Neal, signing Metta World Peace), that approach is not going to work this time.

The Lakers are bottoming out to start the rebuild this time, which is precisely where the Clippers were six seasons ago.

"Everyone has done it different ways," Rivers said before the game Friday when asked about the best way to get a team back on a championship track. "The Lakers have been pretty successful -- consistently successful. The Celtics have done the up-and-down thing -- rebuild and then build back up. I don't know if there is any right way."

In this instance, the Clippers' current way seems to be a pretty good path to follow.

It went like this: The Clippers went 23-59 in 2007-08, landing them the No. 7 pick in the draft, which they used on Eric Gordon while also picking up DeAndre Jordan in the second round that year. In 2008-09, they were even worse, going 19-63 and ending up with the No. 1 selection, resulting in Blake Griffin. Two seasons later, Gordon, Griffin and Jordan all matriculated into proven commodities in the league and the Clips used Gordon as the principle piece to land a top-10 player in the league in Chris Paul. Two seasons after that, they brought in a coach with a championship ring on his résumé in Rivers.

And now here they are, 11 games ahead of the Lakers in the standings and on the brink of being a legitimate contender if Paul's shoulder heals and they can make a roster tweak or two to shore up for a long postseason run.

Going 42-122 (or something thereabouts) over the course of two seasons like the Clippers did might not be a reality Lakers fans want to consider ever having to stomach, but there is such thing as a necessary evil sometimes. The sooner the Lakers accept that, the sooner a proper rebuild can occur.

"It's the NBA," said Gasol, who made the Finals in each of his first three seasons with the Lakers, when asked if he could ever envision being mired in such a slump with this team. "You're going to have some good years when things are going to work out and go your way. I was fortunate to be a part of a great stretch, and right now we're kind of on the opposite end of it."

You have to be up to go down, and you have to be down to go up. The Lakers and Clippers are in the process of learning that from each other.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
24.6 4.9 1.4 35.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 8.3
AssistsK. Bryant 4.9
StealsR. Price 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2