Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks …
Yes, we’re all used seeing to the Lakers and Clippers in separate strata but, aw, you guessed it.
Just over a year since Chris Paul almost became a Laker and turned into a Clipper instead, we’re now also used to those La-La land-themed last-shall-be-first-and-vice-versa stories.
Of course, the Lakers never really stop being the Lakers, and the Clippers never really stop being the Clippers – so far.
Real change means a real divergence in finishes, several years running. Ties go to the reigning (local) champion, like last season, when the Clippers went all but unnoticed after their early buzz died out, despite finishing one game behind the Lakers, reaching the second round and exiting one day before their better-known neighbors.
The same thing is happening this season with all the hue and cry about the Lakers’ woes and only passing mention of the Clippers, who look a lot better than last season’s highlight show that wound up being eclipsed by the glamour boys down the hall.
Winners of 10 in a row, with five on the road, the Clippers are now No. 2 in the West, seven games ahead of the No. 12 Lakers.
Forget conference standings.
The Lakers are No. 3 by a lot in the Pacific Division, 5 1/2 games behind the even more surprising Warriors.
The Clippers’ strength, aside from Paul and Blake Griffin, lies in their depth (No. 2 in bench scoring at 42 a game to the No. 29 Lakers’ 14), coming off a summer in which they saw GM Neil Olshey leave and, while searching to replace him, brought in Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill.
Barnes, of course, was part of last season’s woeful Lakers bench, showing what joining a winning program can mean for a player.
Olshey’s departure was Pure Clippers, who neglected to offer him an extension as his contract ran out after he pulled off the Paul trade that potentially set up the franchise up for a decade, losing him to a big-money offer by Portland’s Paul Allen.
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In a departure from Clippers history, a committee of team president Andy Roeser, assistant GM (and now GM) Gary Sacks and Coach Vinny Del Negro took over – in consultation with a very interested and informed Paul, who becomes a free agent in July.
Insiders say Paul is a good bet to stay, which could mean the last one season-plus may not have just been remarkable, but the start of something real.