Who's No. 1?
Lakers have complete package
When looking at both team's rosters, I'd have to take the Lakers over the Clippers heading into 2012-13. With Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have the superior backcourt duo over Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford. And in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers possess more size and skill in their frontcourt to counter the youth and athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. As it stands now, the Clippers offer the deeper bench, but with the reported addition of Antawn Jamison, the Lakers will have upgraded their reserves' scoring punch, addressing their biggest weakness on last year's unit.
But the Lakers don't just have the superior top-end talent. The team, as constructed, meshes better as well. With Nash in house, the Lakers have added a floor general who can help them leverage their size advantage. His addition also lessens Kobe's load as an offensive initiator, leaving him fresher to be more efficient for longer stretches throughout games. Add in Nash's ability to space the floor as an elite shooter and his skill set perfectly complements his teammates to help improve their already stellar production.
When you combine this offensive potency with the defensive capabilities the Lakers' roster possesses, the gap only widens between the two teams, with the balance tilting more heavily in the Lakers' favor.
Clippers' potential is undeniable
The Lakers are the franchise that does everything right. They plucked Steve Nash from Phoenix for practically nothing and they reportedly got Antawn Jamison for pocket change. Yeah, maybe the Lakers are partying like it's still 1999, but they managed to utilize every asset they had -- and they may do it again with Dwight Howard. But for now, the Lakers are a team everyone knows will be extremely good. Yet again, the Lakers are a known entity.
The Clippers, meanwhile, are the franchise that never seems to do anything right. They stumble and bumble into occasional success, usually on the back of an individual as opposed to a process. The Clippers, unlike the Lakers, are far from a known entity right now.
But it's that great "unknown," the possibilities that potential presents, that will actually make the Clippers a better team than the Lakers this year.
It starts with Blake Griffin -- a player with no real ceiling. The rallying cry against Griffin is that he can't shoot, but very quietly, his midrange game became an effective weapon late last year. It's not unrealistic to expect him to build on that improvement offensively, especially considering he just barely scratched the surface as a roll partner with Chris Paul last year. Griffin and Paul are already one of the league's most elite combos in that setting -- what happens when they develop some actual chemistry? And what if the team, 17th in defensive efficiency last season and right there with the Lakers for the Pacific, actually gets it together on that end of the floor?
What if Eric Bledsoe's Dwyane Wade imitation in the playoffs last year was sustainable over a full season? What if DeAndre Jordan grows into his role? Yes, the Clippers have lots of questions surrounding their team, but they also have plenty of room for development -- and that's something that the Lakers, the team that always seems to have it all, just don't have anymore.