Commentary

You pick: Lakers or Clippers?

A roundtable of ESPN writers discuss which team is in the better position now

Updated: December 20, 2011, 8:53 AM ET
By ESPNLosAngeles.com

Did one week change everything?

When the Los Angeles Clippers were able to complete a trade for Chris Paul -- a trade the Los Angeles Lakers were denied -- the city was abuzz with the rise of its "other" NBA team. Suddenly, the once-dormant Clips packed enough offensive potential to propel them past their across-the-hall nemesis.

But, the Lakers are still the Lakers, with 16 championships under their belt and the financial wherewithal to contend perennially -- not to mention one of the league's most fearsome trios.

So with less than a week until the season opener, the question is: Who would you rather be right now, the Clippers or the Lakers? Our writers responded below. Leave your answers in the comments.

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com NBA writer: Would you rather be the Clippers or the Lakers? This strikes me as one of the better Rorschach tests in basketball. Think of it this way: Would you rather build something or maintain it? Are you more inspired by tantalizing potential or historic greatness? Which do you prefer -- the act of planning for a party, or being the impresario host? And at that party, do you gravitate toward the great-looking, socially competent people, or do you seek out the quirky mystery guest in the corner?

[+] EnlargeBlake Griffin
Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty ImagesIf he isn't already, Blake Griffin is close to becoming the NBA's premier power forward.

The Lakers seem like the obvious choice. The Clippers might have won the week with the crafty acquisitions of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups while the Lakers nabbed ... wait for it ... Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. But if you zoom out, this amounts to a 6-0 run in a marathon game that has lasted nearly 30 years. As Clippers general manager Neil Olshey pointed out this week, the Lakers are still the NBA's gold standard. Those banners hanging in Staples Center? They're purple on gold. If you internally polled every active member of the NBA's players association and asked them the top three teams they'd like to play for, you'd probably find the Lakers on virtually every ballot. Throw in a $150 million annual television deal for the next two decades, and you've got a franchise that will be able to reload at will, and one for which the luxury tax will seem like a dinner tip.

In other words, being the Lakers is like being the homecoming king. Life comes easy. But in the larger scheme of things, what fun is that if your goal is to change the world? The Clippers' history amounts to squat, but the best narratives in life are redemptive -- improbable underdogs who overcome the odds and win. For the first time in ages, the Clippers have the table set for that kind of story. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are now the league's glamour tandem. This isn't just about entertainment value either. Paul is the best active point guard on the planet, and Griffin should be the NBA's premier power forward in short order. They're surrounded by capable, complementary pieces, management that knows what it's doing and the thrill of promise. We shouldn't underrate that last point -- that's why we're sports fans.

Whether you'd rather be the Lakers or the Clippers isn't a binary choice so much as a question of world view.


Andy Kamenetzky, Land O'Lakers co-author: The Clips are suddenly all upside and possibility, while the Lakers appear vulnerable for the first time since we learned "Smush" is both a name and a verb. If you're grading on "hip" or "hype," the Clippers are certainly in the driver's seat.

However, measured against each other in terms of actual basketball, these teams are actually pretty evenly matched.

Among the starters, Derek Fisher is nowhere near Chris Paul's class, but the reverse goes for Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups. A healthy Caron Butler is much superior to Matt Barnes (my guess for Monday's starter), but "Tuff Juice" has increasingly struggled to stay on the court. Blake Griffin is the more exciting, explosive power forward, but return to established form assumed, Pau Gasol is a more skilled player. Finally, Andrew Bynum trails only Dwight Howard among NBA centers, while DeAndre Jordan is still raw and developing.

In other words, it's more or less a wash.

Tangible separation also isn't created by the benches. The Lakers boast more depth, but Mo Williams is probably the most reliable scoring option among either team's reserves. Either way, neither crew appears terribly frightening at first glance.

As far as coaches go, Mike Brown has the better pedigree than Vinny Del Negro, but working under immense scrutiny during a compressed season, both are staring down tough assignments.

The bouncy brand of "Lob City" ball promised by Griffin will undoubtedly spin heads, but the Lakers seem like the better defensive team.

Again, it's all pretty close.

Gun to my head, the Lakers' collective experience, along with the collective realization of a window closing, breaks the virtual tie. It's an urgency that can't be faked, and were I to guess, it'll provide the Lakers a slight edge throughout the season and the playoffs. But the margins will be slim. And either way, the Clips will be WAY more fun to watch.


Brian Kamenetzky, Land O'Lakers co-author: Being the Clippers would certainly be more fun. They have the young, high-end roster and a star combo in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin capable of elevating highlight reel pick-and-roll sequences into works of art. With Paul around, DeAndre Jordan could score 10 points a night on dunks alone. If healthy, Caron Butler gives them toughness and scoring punch on the wing. If nothing else, while pricey his signing filled a need and sent signals the team was serious. Bidding on Chauncey Billups was a bold move, freeing them up to pull the trigger on CP3.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Bynum, Pau Gasol
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesAndrew Bynum and Pau Gasol still give the Lakers a decided edge over the Clippers.

This Clippers team has injected itself into the Western Conference playoff race, and if everything clicks could and should make real noise. They are not hype.

Meanwhile in El Segundo, Mitch Kupchak spun it as best he could, but the Lamar Odom situation still feels badly mishandled, and a fan base with dreams of CP3 and Dwight Howard has been completely deflated. Still, the Lakers have responded with a few decent moves to shore up the front court and add badly needed shooting, and in the end still have a top three outshining the Clips. As a game-changer, Paul has the edge on Kobe these days. But while he's not the same eye-popping athlete, Pau Gasol is a superior overall player to Griffin and Andrew Bynum is light years ahead of Jordan.

The Clippers will almost undoubtedly be more entertaining to watch. Kobe himself admitted as much. They have in front of them an incredible opportunity to build a young, championship-caliber roster, while the Lakers have (or should have) deep, deep concerns for the future.

Still, if it's a choice of which team is more likely to win more games and advance deeper into the playoffs this season, it's pretty tight but the answer is still the Lakers.


D.J. Foster, ClipperBlog author: There tends to be this misconception that the Clippers are now capable of overthrowing the Lakers for the throne of Los Angeles. The shift will come, and the Lakers will fall off the face of the earth.

That's not going to happen, but I can see the logic. The wall that prevented the Clippers from attracting superstar players now has a Chris Paul-sized hole in it. The perception has changed. The Lakers are old. The Clippers are new.

As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, though, it needs to be said: Donald Sterling is still the owner of this franchise, and real revolutions require resources.

Sterling's primary objective will always be to turn a profit. For years, Sterling has neglected the details, skimping on things like his scouting department, opting instead to involve himself in basketball decisions and lead the Clippers through a legacy of ineptitude.

It doesn't help that the Lakers have 16 NBA championships and have established generations of fans who bleed purple and gold while the Clippers have toiled in obscurity. Sudden relevance does not make upheaval possible.

Even basic equality remains out of reach for now because as organizations, there is simply no comparison between the two teams. The Lakers are far superior.

But what if you were somehow able to block out all the peripherals? What if you forgot about who the owners were and the depth of their pockets, ignored all the banners hanging in Staples Center, dimmed the lights on the crowd a little darker and pretended that nothing mattered except for the 10 players on the court?

Well, now we've got a fair fight.

Maybe that's what all the fuss is about after all -- the Clippers now have a legitimate shot at being every bit as good as the Lakers this season.

That's more of a reflection on how good the Clippers can be than anything else. Looking past how great of a big man Pau Gasol is or forgetting that Kobe Bryant's knee surgery probably just gave him a new lease on life would be downright foolish. Losing Lamar Odom hurts, sure, but the sky is certainly not falling.

So who do you go with: Paul and Griffin, or Bryant and Gasol? Last I checked, you can't wear rings on the court and nostalgia doesn't count for extra points.

Maybe it's just my personal preference, but everything else aside, I'd rather be guided by the rising stars than the falling ones.

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