Battle of L.A.: Clips or Lakers better?

The Lakers have been the model franchise of the NBA. The Clippers, well, have not. But things are changing fast. With the emergence of Blake Griffin in L.A., and talks of Chris Paul possibly joining him in red, white and blue, the Clippers are closing the gap.

So which squad has the better pieces right now? Brighter future? Our writes debate:

1. Better backcourt: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Clippers. Kobe Bryant is still the reigning guard in Los Angeles, but the Lakers have a vacuum at the point -- something the Clippers addressed on Monday afternoon when they picked up amnesty castaway Chauncey Billups at the cool price of $2 million for one year. Whether it's Billups and Gordon or Chris Paul and one of the aforementioned, the Clips have somewhere between a slight to a meaningful edge.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Clippers. Sure, the Lakers still have Kobe, but this is officially the season where no one is pretending that Derek Fisher can still get the job done with savvy and veteran wiles. With the addition of Chauncey Billups, who, by contrast, has remained productive into his mid-30s, the Clips have three elite shooters to give Blake Griffin the space he needs.

Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN LA: The Lakers have the best player in Kobe Bryant, and in the NBA elite talent trumps all. But if we're talking depth, it's the Clippers in a walk (even without CP3). Gordon, Bledsoe, Williams, and now Chauncey? Considering the Lakers don't have a backup SG and sported the NBA's least productive PG tandem last season, it's not much competition.

Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: Lakers. Any backcourt that includes Kobe Bryant will be better than just about any other backcourt in the league. That argument held true when Michael Jordan was paired with Ron Harper and Steve Kerr and it holds true today for Bryant with Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. That said, a Clippers backcourt of Chauncey Billups and Eric Gordon is extremely formidable. It won the FIBA World Championship last year and would likely get the Clippers past the first round of the playoffs for the second time since 1976. This still holds true if the Clippers end up trading half their team for Chris Paul.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: The Clippers. Kobe may be the best player of the bunch but with the Lakers' glaring hole at point guard, the trio of Eric Gordon, Billups and Mo Williams is simply better. Even the Mamba can't make up this difference.

2. Better small forward: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: It's a wash between Caron Butler and Metta World Peace. Neither posted a player efficiency rating worth mentioning, but contrary to his nom de guerre, Peace is still a warrior on the defensive side of the ball and has been surprisingly durable. Butler was a member of the most statistically effective five-man unit in the league last season and can still score.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Wash. There are questions of fit for both teams that only the season can answer. Can the Clips persuade Caron Butler, whose best seasons have always been as a featured scorer, to be the fourth or fifth option on a young team? How will Metta World Peace, who never seemed comfortable jacking up corner 3s in the triangle, respond to a new system and a new name?

Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN LA: Butler provides more offense, but Peace's defensive numbers last season were great. So which do you want more? If World Peace can find more comfort in Mike Brown's system than he did with the triangle, chances are he delivers a more complete package than Butler.

Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: Clippers. If Butler was ever fully healthy, this wouldn't be close, but Butler has yet to play 82 games in a season during his nine-year career and hasn't been the two-time All-Star he was in Washington after his hip injury in 2008. Still, if we assume he's healthy now after knee surgery he'll be better than Metta World Peace, who was as bad on the court last season for the Lakers as he was this season on "Dancing With the Stars."

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: The Lakers. For all the decline Metta World Peace has shown on offense over the years, he still plays defense better than anything Caron Butler does on a basketball court.

3. Better power forward: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Can you think of two guys who play the same position so efficiently, but whose styles are so completely different? This is like asking who's the better musician -- Miles Davis or Bob Dylan?

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Lakers. Even with a leap forward for Blake Griffin in his sophomore season, Pau Gasol still figures to be the league's premier power forward for another season. Don't listen to the critics who insist that the playoffs saw New Pau morph back into Old Pau, as if toughness is something that can be accidentally left in the seat-back pocket on a flight to Dallas. Pau played every game last season and was never better.

Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN LA: Pau Gasol can't jump over a car (not a sedan, at least), but he has a deeper skill set than Griffin, ubertalented as the rookie of the year is. Gasol has a wider array of offensive moves, is more efficient, is a more effective passer and is a better defender. Ask again in a year or two and the answer probably changes.

Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: Clippers. Pau Gasol is still one of the best power forwards in basketball but the fact that he's been a part of multiple trade talks this offseason should tell you something after his dreadful showing in the postseason. Griffin is not only one of the best power forwards in the game but is also one of the league's biggest stars. He single-handedly made a 32-50 Clippers team must-watch TV last season and is the kind of player you build a championship team around, which is exactly what the Clippers are trying to do now.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: The Lakers. Blake Griffin is fast becoming one of the better players in the league and his flashy game grabs attention. But Pau Gasol is the better defender, passer, jump shooter and low-post tactician. Griffin may be the future but he's not yet better than Pau.

4. Better management: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: The Lakers have some championships and one of the most well-respected brands in sports, so they must be doing something right. The Clippers' current management is the best the team's ever had. Now the challenge will be to harness everything Blake Griffin gives the Clippers and turn it into something they can hang from the rafters at Staples Center.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: I'm required by law to pick the team that's not owned by Donald Sterling. That said, Jim Buss seems to be taking succession advice from Hal Steinbrenner. Alienate departing coaches? Check. Anger star players? Check. Publicly botch trades and then dump key pieces who are upset in the fallout? Check. Get well soon, Dr. Buss.

Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN LA: The owner counts as management, right? No question, the Lakers win there with Jerry Buss. Legitimate questions regarding his son notwithstanding, to compare any Buss to Donald Sterling is a little insulting. Hard to knock Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, though I love what his Clippers counterpart, Neil Olshey, has done with the LAC, patiently building to make all this CP3 talk possible.

Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: Lakers. The Clippers, so far, have clearly had a better offseason than the Lakers. They've signed Caron Butler, claimed Chauncey Billups off waivers, matched the Golden State Warriors' offer sheet to DeAndre Jordan and have been in serious talks to acquire Chris Paul. The Lakers, meanwhile, traded Lamar Odom to the Mavericks for a trade exception, lost Shannon Brown to free agency and have failed to put together a package to get Paul or Dwight Howard. The problem is Donald Sterling still owns the Clippers. So, yeah, enough said.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: The Lakers. Management starts with the owner and moves down. This then becomes a question of choosing between the Buss family and Donald Sterling. That's an easy choice.

5. Better future: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: It's hard to bet against the Lakers long term because their allure as a franchise will always allow them to recruit the very best basketball players in the world, but the Clippers have assembled a young roster built to do some special things ... if they can add just one more piece.

Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Clippers. The Mayans were right. These are end times.

Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN LA: The Lakers will always have the edge big picture in terms of franchise value, cachet, television money and so on, but the Clippers are unquestionably set up better to be good in, say, 2014 thanks to younger pieces, more payroll flexibility and more punitive CBA rules. Not a fair fight, though, since the LAL's predicament is based in large part from constant winning over the last four seasons.

Arash Markazi, ESPN LA: Clippers. As the Lakers, with their stars in their 30s, try to make moves to get younger, the Clippers look to be building a contender for the future with Griffin (22), Gordon (22) Jordan (23) and Mo Williams (28) while still trying to make a play for Paul (26) or Howard (26). Unless the Lakers can get Howard or Paul, the Clippers may slowly do the unthinkable and become the premier tenant at Staples Center.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: As much as it pains me to say this, the Clippers. Their best player has as bright a future as any in the game and the Lakers' best player is nearing the twilight of his career. I don't discount the Lakers' ability to rebuild, but the Clippers are simply better set up for future success.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz writes for ESPN.com. Brian Kamenetzky and Arash Markazi write for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Jordan Heimer and Darius Soriano write for the TrueHoop Network.

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