LOS ANGELES — They by no means received a name or an e mail or perhaps a textual content, and definitely not a gathering final summer time. When LeBron James selected Los Angeles because the place to re-root his household and construct his facet hustle in leisure and sure, contend for NBA championships, he by no means bothered to elucidate why he selected one L.A. staff over the opposite.
And most definitely, you by no means bothered to surprise. You knew.
Such is life right here, the place the blue sky is repainted purple and gold, the place the basketball statues out entrance of Staples Middle all share the identical uniform, the place the observe file for achievement and wealthy hoops historical past leans too far within the route of the Lakers, crushing the Clippers within the course of.
So when the season started the Clippers merely moved ahead as soon as once more within the shadows of the close by circus, far beneath radar and past the glare, sharing the identical enviornment because the Lakers however not the identical platform, and for this reason in the present day feels so … what’s the phrase … gratifying? … for the L.A. Crew Not Match For A King.
The Clippers are literally doing this, aren’t they? They’re about to maintain the Lakers and LeBron from making the playoffs.
The groups performed Monday in what turned the unofficial sign-off for the Laker season after the Clippers grabbed a shovel and buried the physique, 113-105, at Staples. Not solely did the Lakers cope with boos from the house crowd, however they performed with out Brandon Ingram and his bum shoulder after which misplaced Kyle Kuzma with six minutes left to an ankle sprain.
The Clippers’ resident pit bull, Pat Beverley, stayed chippy from the tip to set the tone for his teammates, giving freely 4 inches and 75 kilos whereas checking LeBron, but conserving that very same depth to the buzzer; by then, half the gang was beating site visitors. With 18 video games left, a five-and-a-half deficit for the West’s ultimate playoff place and losses in seven of their final 9, the Lakers have checked out and packed up.
And oh, it’ll get even sweeter for the Clippers if they’ve a greater summer time than the Lakers, too, when it is going to be Jerry West vs. Magic Johnson.
All of a sudden, any and all is feasible, as a result of these should not your Donald Sterling Clippers, and primarily based on three-fourths of proof this season, you surprise if and when these will ever be your Jerry Buss Lakers.
“I knew coming into this yr it will be totally different from the earlier yr,” mentioned James, nearly resigned to watching the playoffs from residence.
A decade in the past, if you happen to knew a staff in LA had a coach on the new seat, a star participant feeling beleaguered, suffered from a string of embarrassing losses and was cloaked in controversy, there can be no query which L.A. staff that was.
However welcome to the 2018-19 season, the place there’s been a coincidence and the Clippers are frisky and free and gazing an upcoming offseason that may turn out to be a launching level for the franchise if all goes nicely.
They don’t have LeBron, and but in addition they don’t have the LeBron-created local weather that has the Lakers on edge and in critical jeopardy of lacking the playoffs, which appeared like a given when James introduced his skills to L.A. final summer time. That call supposedly signaled a brand new renaissance for the staff with 16 championships and continued a parade of superstars emigrate to L.A. to affix the Lakers, which began with West and Elgin Baylor some 60 years in the past.
Effectively: Life comes at you quick, and LeBron discovered himself coping with distracted teammates he tried to ship to New Orleans in a failed coup for Anthony Davis and a coach in Luke Walton he doesn’t seem to enthusiastically endorse, together with a primary season with the Lakers that’s going up in smoke.
“We didn’t care for enterprise tonight,” James mentioned. “However you retain taking part in to the top and see what occurs. On the finish of the yr, the chips will fall the place they could. We’re in a outcomes league. You’re taking the nice with the unhealthy and maintain pushing ahead.”
Lacking the playoffs will probably be an ego blow for the Lakers, and for LeBron, his first early exit since his second season within the league. Sure, there are circumstances. The Lakers wouldn’t be on this place had LeBron not missed a month with a groin pull, and this staff has by no means been absolutely wholesome since Thanksgiving. But that doesn’t forgive losses to the Knicks, Grizzlies, Suns, Hawks, and many others., and many others.
It will come as doubly miserable ought to the Lakers sit residence this spring whereas L.A. throws its assist behind the Clippers within the postseason, particularly because the Clippers had been all however left for useless — and tanking — after buying and selling Tobias Harris, their finest participant, on the commerce deadline.
However the Clippers, not like the Lakers, play arduous for his or her coach and well as nicely, and that’s why they’re at present a top-eight staff regardless of missing a franchise participant. They’ve gained seven of 10 because the commerce.
Concerning the tanking topic, Doc Rivers mentioned the locker room by no means gave that any critical thought.
“That was by no means going to occur,” he mentioned. “We could have misplaced (video games) however we weren’t going to tank. I feel folks didn’t consider we couldn’t do it even when we needed to. That discuss helped us, as a result of that was a problem. This can be a group that takes fairly nicely to challenges.”
The Clippers weren’t on LeBron’s radar final summer time however possibly their free agent judgment day is coming. They’re well place to benefit from the market with out sacrificing their core. Get this: It’ll be powerful for an A-list free agent to say no to the Clippers.
They’ve received a safe coach in Rivers who continuously ranks excessive in participant reputation polls. They’ve an excellent supporting forged, all on team-friendly offers: Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Landry Shamet, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Beverley. If the Clippers had been to discover a taker for Danilo Gallinari’s contract, it may create room for 2 max free brokers.
Additionally, they’ve an proprietor price billions in Steve Ballmer who desires to crank up the noise, so neither cash nor the luxurious tax will probably be a problem. Lastly, the Clippers can provide a free agent all of the charms of LA with out coping with any of the runoff that always comes with being LeBron’s teammate.
You don’t even want to look at his historical past intently to know that the good Jerry West, now an adviser for the Clippers, normally will get his man. And this summer time will probably be an fascinating backroom competitors between The Brand and Magic, who’ll be beneath stress to repair the Lakers, given this season’s collapse and in addition the dwindling time remaining (three years) on LeBron’s contract and physique.
This raises an vital query for the Lakers: How will perspective free brokers view the concept of taking part in subsequent to LeBron? It gained’t matter within the occasion of a commerce for, say, Anthony Davis, who should go wherever the Pelicans ship him. However a free agent?
It’s finest to not out of the blue diminish the Lakers on that entrance, as a result of this franchise stays a vacation spot, particularly if they’ve cash to spend, which they may. Free brokers gained’t care about how the Lakers stumbled the yr earlier than. On this scenario, cash talks at the start. Simply the identical, inserting an excessive amount of emphasis on this season and projecting one thing lethal related for the Lakers subsequent season — assuming after all, good well being for LeBron — is completed at your individual danger.
However that’s within the distance. For now, the Lakers are the No. 2 staff on the town, and all that’s left is to look at LeBron’s physique language for indicators of give up as he performs out the meaningless string. LeBron gave no definitive reply about how a lot, if any, he’ll play as soon as the Lakers’ demise is official.
“I’ll proceed being knowledgeable and nice as I may be each single evening irrespective of the circumstances,” he mentioned.
In the meantime, the opposite staff in L.A. is absolutely activated, to borrow a LeBron time period, for the subsequent step.
“There have been seven folks right here to see us media day,” mentioned Beverley. “I keep in mind prefer it was yesterday. Like I mentioned then, we’re the perfect staff in L.A. Lots of people didn’t consider me. In all probability nonetheless don’t.”
“That’s tremendous. That’s who we do it for, the folks within the again. The blue collar individuals who don’t have something given to them. Who work for every part they deserve. And we’re preparing for the playoffs.”
Shaun Powell has lined the NBA for greater than 25 years. You’ll be able to e-mail him right here, discover his archive right here and comply with him on Twitter.
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