Friday, March 7, 2014
Rivalry a relative term in today's NBA
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- On Thursday the Clippers beat the Lakers for the seventh time since Chris Paul's trade to the Lakers was vetoed by the league.
The nixed deal might be enough to make Lakers fans envious of Clippers fans (even though their team leads the Clips 16-0 in the championship department), but it's doubtful that it makes the players care any more or less.
While talk of a crosstown rivalry makes for a convenient story line, that's just not the reality of today's NBA.
Take the starting point guard match-up between the Lakers and Clippers, for instance.
Kendall Marshall, who went to University of North Carolina, has known fellow ACC product Chris Paul (Wake Forest) since playing in Paul's summer camp as a high schooler.
“He’s kind of been like a big brother to me, honestly,” Marshall said after Thursday's shootaround. "He’s a guy that I really look up to."
Hardly sounds like the stuff of two competitive rivals.
This isn't meant to pick on Marshall. His relationship with Paul is more the norm in the league than the exception. Just this week, Paul George, who lost to LeBron James in Game 7 of last season's Eastern Conference Finals and could very well meet James again in the playoffs this spring, said in an interview with BasketballInsiders.com that he would like to pick James' brain, even though the two must compete against one another.
"It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he's a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level," George said. "I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to -- not during the season because I'm too competitive during the season -- but maybe in the summertime."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said things have drastically changed from the time he retired in 1995-96 and the time when his son, Austin, became an NBA rookie in 2012-13.
"It’s a new league," Rivers said. "But I think it’s a new league because of the way they grow up now. We honestly didn’t know the opponent. We didn’t know guys on the other teams to the point where, when you went west, you literally hadn’t seen the team at all. Like, visually, at all if they hadn’t been on TV.
"And especially early in my career, there was no TNT so when you played [the] Sacramentos, that was literally the first time you’d ever seen them play and the first time you’ve ever been on the court with some of the guys. So, it’s a different league. AAU has changed that. I know from Austin, he knows everybody and it drives me crazy. But that’s just the way the league is. I don’t know what the team lines are any more in that regard. I don’t know. Don’t get me started. I just don’t know."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has seen some of the league's best players come together to share their tricks of the trade and bond towards a common goal with this time as an assistant coach for USA Basketball, so he sees the bright side of the interaction.
"I think it’s always been kind of a fraternity and when you’re in the offseason, I think everybody helps everybody," D'Antoni said. "Especially if they’re working out together in Vegas or wherever they’re working out -- back in Carolina. I think during the season they probably respect the lines, but in the offseason [that changes]. And it’s good. It’s good that the older players can show the younger players the ropes."
Rivers was not as keen on the apprenticeship aspect of young players learning from their opponents, but did say he liked the way that familiarity can breed contempt.
"The one thing you do know, the closer you are to somebody, the more you want to beat them," said Rivers. "It’s not the other way. So, I don’t think that will ever go away -- the competitiveness -- just because they fraternize. Being at Duke during the summer, I saw the Duke and Carolina guys playing in pick-up games all summer. And I always thought, well, that will make that [regular season in-conference] game even better now because they know each other a little bit more. They still don’t like each other and I think that’s all good."
Player movement can further complicate things. The Lakers have two former Clippers in Nick Young and Chris Kaman. The Clippers have one former Laker in Matt Barnes (two if you count Paul before the trade was revoked).
There's one aspect of the league-wide camaraderie that Rivers supports, actually. With L.A. such a popular offseason destination for so many NBA players, the Clippers smartly open the doors to their Playa Vista practice facility to any league guy who want to get a run in.
"I actually liked that because in the summers, I like to see guys playing," Rivers said. "Doesn’t have to be all my guys. I had everybody in the gym and I got to sit and watch. That’s not all bad."
The fact that the Clippers beat the Lakers by an average of 42 points in their last two meetings this season is bound to come up in one of those pick-up games this summer.