Heisler: Lakers and Clippers will Battle for Blake in 2014

LOS ANGELES – Now about those exciting new Clippers …

They’re definitely new with five starters who were on four different teams last season.

They’re guaranteed to excite, too, with Blake Griffin, the game’s most spectacular player since Julius Erving, or ever, Chris Paul trying to see how high he can throw a lob Blake can jam, and everyone putting on a nightly highlight reel.

Unfortunately for them, they’re still the Clippers, yet to distinguish themselves from The Band You’ve Known For All These Years, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart NBA Team.

As for all that stuff they wrote about them taking over Los Angeles, that’s a joke.

Of course, I wrote it, too, or first–OK, it was both–but I was joking, or at least, having beaucoup fun projecting what might happen.

In any case, things are pretty much the way they were, eve if the Clips didn’t start 0-2 or 0-10 before winning one this time.

The Lakers, home for five of seven, are only 4-3, instead of their usual 7-0 or 6-1.

Of course, we all go bananas before seasons start, but if no one can tell you how this will turn out, I’m pretty sure I can figure out how it’s going to go in the long term.

For all this Battle of L.A. stuff, the real prize isn’t turf. It’s 6-8, weighs 250 pounds, has red hair and jumps over Kias, not to mention Timofey Mozgov or anyone else who wanders into the picture frame at the wrong time.

Yes, it’s Griffin, who’s more than a dunker, or scorer, or new face of the NBA, or new commercial phenomenon.

Lost in the wonder of his feats, manners, the NBA’s need for a new baby icon to replace its old one, LeBron James, and the sponsors’ need for a fresh face, is Griffin’s game.

He doesn’t just soar, slam and smile becomingly. He can handle the ball and shoot it, if he has yet to get that down (55 percent on free throws, up from last season’s 50 percent, 15 percent below where it has to go.)

This is no mere phenom. Given the good health that every hoop fan should pray for, since he represents the game at its most exciting, he’ll be a player for the ages… but whose?

Barring massive disappointments, spurned extension offers, trade demands–and the team’s acknowledgement the situation is hopeless, which this team never does, no matter how hopeless things are–Griffin will be a Clipper through the summer of 2014.

At that point, he’d be free with suitors lining up to the East Coast… starting a few steps down the hall from the Clipper dressing room in Staples Center, in the Lakers’ more spacious one with the adjoining training room, lounge, leather furniture, big-screen TV, et al.

Of course, the last time the Lakers were $1 under the cap was 1996 when they signed Shaquille O’Neal. Sixteen seasons later, the team salary is at $88 million, plus another $26 million or so in luxury tax, making the total cost about $114 million.

For younger fans, a GOP Senate Minority Leader named Everett Dirksen once put the exorbitant sums thrown around by politicians (and now by professional athletes, teams, et al.) into perspective.

“A billion here, a billion there,” Dirksen said. “The next thing you know, you’re talking about real money.”

By 2013, the Lakers could be over $125 million, looking at the new, punitive rates coming the following spring, going up to $4.25-per-dollar for teams far enough over the tax threshold, often enough… or, in other words, for the Lakes.

Ask Jerry Buss, who charges $2,750 per courtside seat, gets an annual $120 million raise in local TV revenue next season and still goes on economy drives, like getting Phil Jackson to accept a 25 percent pay cut, laying off almost the entire organization during the lockout and dumping Lamar Odom’s $8.9 million salary… $100 mill here, $100 mill there, it adds up.

Of course, by 2014, the Lakers will be looking at a payroll of… zip.

None of their contracts goes past the 2013-14 season, not even that of Kobe Bryant, whose $30.5 million comes off the books that summer.

Add minimums for 2012-13-14 No. 1 picks–presumably in the 20s unless the bleep really hits the fan–worth, say, $7.5 million.

Of course, they could have Dwight Howard or Deron Williams. In either case, a sign-and-trade would mean the new Lakers’ max deal that started at $17 million would be up to $18.5 million.

That would put their committed salaries around $26 million… leaving them, say, $39 million under the cap.

Making sure that’s what they would have, and no more, is what’s called a “salary cap strategy.”

Not that many understand that higher math, or can stay the course.

Take former Knicks president Donnie Walsh, who spent his first two seasons dumping their big salaries–it wasn’t that excruciating at 25 wins a season–clearing room for three (3) maximum slots, two in 2011 when James, Dwyane Wade, et al, would be free.

All they got was Amare Stoudemire, which still looked good at mid-season, with a nice young team with admirable chemistry… and two (2) maximum slots remaining for CP3 and whomever he wanted to bring.

Unfortunately, owner James Dolan picked this moment to re-engage, presumably drawn in by Paul’s people, and Carmelo Anthony’s people… who were more or less the same people under the CAA umbrella.

Knowing they might get Melo as a free agent, Walsh had drawn the line in talks with the Nuggets at one player–Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler. No one to delay gratification, Dolan took over and offered both players, plus Raymond Felton.

At the last moment, the Nuggets said they needed Mozgov, a 25-year-old seven-footer with some upside, so not even Dolan could have confused him with, say, Jared Jeffries.

In went Mozgov, too, with Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry’s contract going to Minnesota, to make the deal work.

Melo arrived to great fanfare, eclipsing the fact that Mike D’Antoni’s flowing, open-floor offense, died upon his arrival.

Worse, after the lackluster finish, the 4-0 sweep by Boston and the lockout, the Knicks found they had misplaced their last maximum slot, which was supposed to be CP3′s!

Two things had happened: Instead of six players (four sent to Denver, two to Minnesota), with three on expiring deals (Chandler, Curry, Randolph), they had Anthony at $18.5 million.

Second, the salary cap, projected in the $61-62 million range after the NBA revenues reached ‘s record-setting $4 billion season, was frozen at $58.4 million.

Instead of a $17 million max slot, the Knicks had about $13.5 million in room–and that required ditching the max-room plan for 2012, amnestying Chauncey Billups and trading for Tyson Chandler.

Instead of holding the whip hand in trade negotiations with New Orleans, since they could sign Paul next summer, the Knicks were told to step aside so Hornet GM Dell Demps could call the other two names on CP3′s list, the Lakers and Clippers.

The Knicks now look like the way they looked late last season, with D’Antoni trying the ball-stopping Melo as a point forward, presumably out of sheer desperation.

Walsh was quietly moved into a consultant role, enabling him to move back to Indianapolis, away from those meshugeneh, and get paid for the final year on his contract.

The Lakers, on the other hand, understand cap strategy. Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, his No. 2 guy and cap expert, used it in the ’90s, freeing the money that brought Shaq.

Kupchak set out to do it when Shaq left in 2004, which was why he dealt Caron Butler a year later, eyeing Stoudemire and Yao Ming, who could be on the market in 2007.

Instead, Yao and Amare signed extensions, the Lakers gave up the strategy and signed Vlade Radmanovic, whom they tried to give away for most of his three seasons with them.

With Griffin the prize, and 2014 looming as the real crossroads for both teams, don’t expect the Lakers to take themselves out of the running.

Of course, who’s to say the Clippers aren’t good enough to make it work with Blake, CP3, Chauncey and Caron?

Of course, they’d better fix a few things, like rebounding, having been beaten by 10 a game.

If the Clips knew they needed another big man, someone like D.J. Mbenga won’t be enough if DeAndre Jordan, a fabulous shot-blocker but a D+ rebounder, can’t get more than 7.3 a game.

Whether or not the Clips bring in someone, the players they have need to hit the boards harder. To date, if Griffin didn’t rebound the ball, opponents had a 64 percent chance of getting it.

That’s no way to win their big guy’s heart, literally or figuratively.

Mark Heisler is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops. His columns and power rankings appear each Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Ty says

    Good article. Don’t let the newly formed Clipper Nation hate. I’m still waiting for the Clippers to win something other than the lottery.

  2. says

    after reading this “gibberish,” it is understandable why your services were no longer needed. same old and tired clipper bashing. gee, i haven’t caught a “dear donald” letter from you, mr. heisler. are you waiting to use your “a” material? blake will be a restricted free agent. restricted as in the clips can (and will) match any offer. see deandre’s deal to confirm same. get over it, the clippers have arrived. “lob city” is alive. the fakers are old and slow. and that won’t be changing anytime soon. who would i rather play with if i was blake? best friend and lob city partner deandre jordan or that handicap space stealing thug bynum? easy choice. would blake rather play with cp3 at 28 or kobe at 36. once again an easy choice. heisler, you need new material. the clipper jokes are finished. they are tired and old like your writing.

  3. Alex says

    I had to stop reading this because of the all typos, errors and misinformation. This is the second time in a row I’ve caught an article of yours with major errors. Last time you forgot the Clippers were starting Caron Butler. This time you ‘guessed’ Blake’s free throw percentage and were off by 15% If you are going to write about the team, the least you could do is even the slightest amount of research so you don’t look like a complete idiot. Consider yourself unfollowed.

  4. aksel says

    Awww another mad laker fan? Clippers are going up, Lakers are going down, Plus he’s a RFA. This was pathetic, you should get fired for writing such a homer, biased, stupid, article. It’s common sence moron.

    • Kjbleu says

      I was browsing through this thread a year later and was cracking up at the idea that the Clippers will ever be more than mediocre! With Dight and Nash in and the Clippers counting on washed up guys like Billups and Butler, plus dogs like De Andre Jordan! As always, the Clippers are second rate while the Lakers will compete for championships. I can’t wait to check back in another year after the Lakers have won another ring and the Clippers are falling apart, then in a few more years when Le Bron teams up with Dwight.

  5. Wowwwww says

    The entire premise of this article is flawed right out of the gates because Blake Griffin is a RESTRICTED free agent in 2014. If the Lakers gut their whole roster for them, they’ll just look like the dumbest, most incompetent franchise in the NBA when the Clippers match Griffin’s offer sheet. It doesn’t really matter how great you think the Lakers are, because at the end of the day, the Clippers hold ALL the leverage.

  6. Randy says

    You failed to mention that Blake will be a restricted free agent in 2014… You’re giving the fans false hope for Blake in 2014. Blake will be a Clippers for a very long time, so you should give it up and write about something that makes more sense.

  7. Kevin says

    A couple of fact corrections: “They’re definitely new with five starters who were on four different teams last season.” ~ Griffin and Jordan were on the Clips so 3 different teams.

    “…(55 percent on free throws, up from last season’s 50 percent, 15 percent below where it has to go.)” ~ He shot 64.2% from the line last year and improved throughout the season.

  8. Brandon says

    Blake’s not going to leave that much money on the table to play in the same exact building merely to chance jerseys. A preposterous preposition to base an article on.

    • says

      This is a salient point. He is going to have to leave serious money on the table to go down the hall. Unless the Lakers make it worth it for him by pairing him with another star, or a better roster than the Clippers have, I don’t see the point.

      Besides, the Clippers should trade Blake Griffin for Dwight Howard, yesterday.

  9. Chris says

    Way to go, homer. God I hate articles like this. No matter how much the Lakers WANT BG, they’re not getting him. As for the Clips’ rebounding/defense – they signed Reggie Evans who is a rebounding beast and should be healthy to play next week, plus Solomon Jones who will be good for some boards and blocks. Come May and June, it certainly won’t be the “same old” Clippers, just like it won’t be the “same old” Lakers (who will be on early vacation).

    • Alex G says

      Clippers will not be better than the Lakers this year when its all said and done. All flash and no substance. Del Negro is an not a very good coach (I’m being nice when I say that too). Both Griffin and DeAndre cannot shoot. Chris Paul has been on one team and on that team he either had West/Chandler or West/Okafor. Do you notice something there? West allows for the ability for a pick and pop and spacing on the court for the other big to stay on the block and near the rim. Also, coming from a Pacer fan let me assure you Solomon Jones is bad (Once again I’m being nice). Get used to some of the least productive minutes of basketball you will see at the professional level from him.

      Finally what will more than anything make the Lakers better than the Clippers this year is their newly found defensive tenacity. This isn’t the type of DeAndre swotting shots tenacity but a full team effort toward defense. I’m not trying to spark controversy but I’m tired of hearing the dogging of the Lakers (I mean did you see Bynum’s first few games WOW) and hailing the Clippers, with their 4 PG rotation and zero depth in the frontcourt with a mediocre coach at best, as a the new team in LA.

      • Chris says

        Chandler was nothing before he had Chris Paul feeding him, and never even came close to the upside DJ has. And Okafor? Really? David West I’ll give you is great, but he’s still no Blake Griffin. Solomon Jones is nothing great – I know that. He’s only going to be in games for limited minutes, so as long a he gets a few boards, that’s all that’s needed.

        As for the Lakers being better: The Clippers as a team have only been together for a few weeks now. Much like the Heat last year, it’ll take some time to fire on all cylinders, and we all saw what they were eventually able to do. You say they have zero depth in the front court. How does the Lakers’ depth chart look? Exactly. I’m sorry, but no, the Lakers are old, and even with Andrew Bynum playing well, and Kobe being Kobe, they still will be on the losing end come playoff time.

  10. says

    So you’re saying that the Lakers understand cap strategy because despite the fact that they’re way over now, they’ll have no commitments in 2014.
    Yet you’re saying that the Knicks don’t understand cap strategy because they cashed in their cap flexibility for Amar’e, then ‘Melo, and finally Chandler and are now over the cap
    But you don’t acknowledge that the Knicks will have no commitments in 2015.

    Well done.

    • Alex G says

      One thing cannot be argued the Knicks did an atrocious job with their cap strategy. Knick fans don’t have Donnie Walsh to blame they can thank Mr. Dolan for giving up three current starters (4 now) for a player who doesn’t have the word “pass” in his vocabulary for a coach emphasizes sharing the ball. As a very big fan of the NBA with League Pass, I will say I find the Knicks unbearable to watch unless of course my friends and I are making bets as to how many bad shot Carmelo can make in one game.

      You are critiquing the writer’s assessment that Lakers cap strategy was good and the Knick’s bad. I ask you Dan, “Was the Lakers cap strategy that bad?” They did win a couple championships (09′ and 10′) with a heavily inflated payroll didn’t they? They may have to suffer through it for the next couple of years now but sometimes that’s the sacrifice you make. Also, and by suffer I mean they’ll be a competitive team who will still win their division more than likely. On the flip side of the coin you point out that the Knicks won’t be in too bad of shape in 2015, but where will they be until then? I can assure you they will not be a contender. One thing fans need to always remember is that it is a team sport and aligning two or three superstars with little to no support from role players doesn’t equal championships.

      • says

        Thank you for your assurances and your opinion on the Knicks. Just so you know, I wasn’t attacking the Lakers. I was just pointing out that as a matter of cap management, the Knicks are doing nothing different from what the Lakers have done with respect to 2015 and 2014 respectively. As to the aside you raised: Proper talent evaluation is not the same thing as proper cap management, and you’re 100% right, the Lakers have a better track record.

      • lovethoseknicks says

        I think the Knicks did a very good job creating enough space to sign max contract players in time for all the high level FAs available. I also think they were doing a great job of building a team that suited the coach while they were doing that.

        The Melo deal was the blip because they gave up too much for him and because he’s mismatched with both Amare and D’Antoni. Then they went further away from D’Antoni with the Chandler signing (even though it was a great pickup) .

        To be honest, IMO if D’Antoni didn’t have so much money left on his contract, he would have left with Walsh at the end of the year. I suspect he was totally opposed to the Melo deal, but played the good soldier. Now he’s trying to make the best of a situation he’s not happy about. I suspect that either way he’s going to leave at the end of the year and a new coach more suited to this roster (someone crazy enough to work with Dolan) will take over. D’Antoni will go somewhere that he is better suited to coach.

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