LOS ANGELES — Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…
I know, it’s the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. They’re also thinking of inscribing it on the statue of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul going up outside Staples Center to welcome Laker fans fleeing the oppression of paying $2,700 to sit courtside for geriatric basketball.
Wait a moment, am I sleeping?
It was all just a dream!
It looked so real! They had an exhibition game and the Clips, with five starters from four different teams, did to the Lakers what the Lakes used to do to them in Clipper “home” games, when Shaquille O’Neal was upset at not getting all the comps he asked for.
Oh, that actually happened?
This is getting crazy… and it will be even crazier if it happens in the regular season, which, of course, hasn’t started yet.
Nevertheless, the ground seems to be quaking here, and not for the usual reasons.
The Lakers aren’t what they were after a decade of domination led to last spring’s fall and this fall’s preseason from hell.
The Clippers are more than they ever were with their surprise acquisition of Chris Paul.
Making it all the more painful for the Lakers, they as much as handed Paul to the Clippers when they pulled out of trade talks with New Orleans to pursue Dwight Howard, who was then yanked off the market.
Nothing like that could ever have happened before, unless some great Clipper—like Griffin, whom Laker fans were already drooling over—left for the Lakers.
This was fate upside down, as if the gods, who had dropped a seven-foot superstar into Laker laps every decade or so (Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, Shaq in 1996, Pau Gasol in 2008), got confused, overflew Lakerdom and dropped CP3 into Clipper Nation!
Of course, the Lakers have seen fire and rain before.
This isn’t close to their worst preseason. That was 2007, when Kobe Bryant called Jerry Buss a liar, demanded to be traded, refused to tell them if he would report, then blew up all over again when Buss said he was open to dealing him, which Kobe took as a betrayal of their agreement not to discuss it publicly.
With permission to seek his own deal, Bryant came closer than many realize to being traded to Chicago. He skipped practice for two days, leaving coach Phil Jackson to tell his players they would just have to ignore what they couldn’t control.
Amazingly, that season ended with the Finals loss to the Celtics, followed by back-to-back Laker titles in 2009-2010.
Nevertheless, there are only two states of being in Lakerdom, jubilation and panic, and this isn’t jubilation, with fans bemoaning the Clipper threat, worrying about falling into the lottery, or advising tanking to get into the lottery.
Indeed, within days of Paul’s arrival, the Clippers sold the rest of their seats.
This was followed by the ballyhooed exhibition opener, which the Clippers won, 114-95, looking scary enough to serve notice they are for real.
Exhibition game or not, the first one was scary enough to have Bryant acknowledge, “I’m concerned. I’m always concerned going into the preseason.”
Actually, Bryant is the king of denial, rarely acknowledging concern about anything.
Freely translated, this meant:
“If those guys play like that all the time, we’d better think of something fast.”
Of course, all is not lost in Lakerdom… yet.
On the other hand, it’s been a while since things looked this tough, with Mike Brown trying to follow in the T-Rex footprints left by Jackson with what’s essentially the same old crew, minus Lamar Odom, as his players pray for a big trade, which would subtract more of them.
Of course, they may have to wait it out until the March 15 trade deadline or longer, like forever, if Howard goes to New Jersey.
Unfortunately for Gasol, who’s already been dealt and returned, and Andrew Bynum, who may also be ticketed to ride, they’ll hear more about their imminent departures than any human can stand.
This started with the Lakers nursing hopes of landing Paul and Howard, but that required everything to break just right.
Instead, everything broke just wrong, starting when David Stern’s merry men let trade talks proceed to an agreement—big mistake—which Judge Dredd then batted down.
With Paul secured, the Lakers could have waited for Orlando to try to win Howard back–long shot—leaving the Magic at the trade deadline with options dwindling fast, instead of trying to order out for pie in the sky.
Instead, with Paul still in play, Howard then forced himself onto the market, luring the Lakers away from CP3.
Orlando presumably gave them an astronomical price–like Gasol, Bynum and taking back Hedo Turkoglu’s $12 million salary–which would explain why talks were cursory.
If that’s what the Magic wanted, I can guess Mitch Kupchak’s answer:
B) Are you in a bad cell area? I thought you said Pau, Drew and we take back Hedo.
C) Is this a joke by the guys downstairs? Gary Vitti, is that you?
C) No answer. Instead, Kupchak faints dead away.
For the record, the Lakers did get hosed, with Stern in a clear conflict of interest.
Taking over the Hornets from distressed owner George Shinn was a temporary consequence of the coming labor storm–obliging Stern to recuse himself, like a judge, in any case in which there was even a question of interests conflicting.
Stern says he simply acted as any team owner would, evaluating a trade his GM brought im.
Of course, Stern is only a surrogate for his owners… including Buss, who paid $11 million for his share of the franchise with 28 other owners.
Buss was entitled to Stern’s unbiased protection of Laker rights as commissioner, as much as Stern’s protection of his share of the Hornet franchise.
Long before Tim Donaghy went bad, Stern decried—appropriately–the press’s presumption of NBA conspiracies.
What Stern just did was an impossible-to-deny, one-man conspiracy.
Since Paul is happy and no one has sued, the legal issue appears to be moot.
In fact, the Hornets, who did need 30-something veterans, wound up with a younger players and the Minnesota No. 1 pick.
Right and wrong?
If the Lakers (and Rockets, who lost Gasol) are upset, 28 other teams would say justice was served, one way or the other, after 50 years of Laker blessings.
(There’s one team that thinks Solomon the Wise couldn’t have done better… the one Stern runs.)
In any case, bad calls are part of the game.
Now to see what fate has in store for Lakerdom this decade.
Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns appear each Wednesday.