Clippers Still Unable to Call Themselves True Kings of L.A.

The Clippers were following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s blueprint to success to a tee until this trade came along. They got lucky in the draft with Gordon and Griffin, their own version of Westbrook and Durant, and continued drafting well (Aminu, Eric Bledsoe) while spending economically on veteran leadership. Before the trade the Clippers starting lineup on December 26th would’ve looked like this: Chauncey Billups, Gordon, Caron Butler, Blake, Kaman with DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Gomes, Aminu and Mo Williams coming off their bench. Solid team right?

After the trade here’s how they’ll look: Chris Paul, Billups, Butler, Blake, Jordan with Gomes, Randy Foye and Bledsoe as their sixth-eighth best players. See what happened there? The Clippers went from a team that had the potential to be 10 deep to a team that’s suddenly a Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan injury away from handing Marcus Hubbard major minutes.

That last tidbit reminds me, Blake Griffin has had one outstanding NBA season. Just one. He sat out the year he was drafted because he hurt himself in a pre-season game against the same Hornets they stole Chris Paul from two years later. People give Greg Oden slack for being injury prone; let’s not forget Blake has only played in 50 percent of the games he’s been eligible to play in.

Now, what about the two other players who are critical to the Clippers’ success who also have a history in the trainer’s room? The newly signed Caron Butler, who wasn’t missed at all by the Dallas Mavericks when he was injured for their entire championship run. And Chris Paul, who also recently had knee injury to repair a torn meniscus.

Injuries have plagued the Clippers in recent years dating all the back to 1998. Their number one draft pick, Michael Olowokandi, never lived up to the hype due to injury and a lack of conditioning. Their superstar before Blake, Elton Brand, continuously got hurt and just never was able to sustain consistent play. Paul, Butler and Blake are all great players, but success is fragile in the NBA. Let’s hope that injuries won’t continue to haunt the Los Angeles Blakers. As Kobe said, “it’s good for L.A. to have two competitive teams.”

Mo Williams guaranteed that the Clippers would make the playoffs even before Paul came to town. I don’t doubt that. Now that they have Paul, I’d put my mortgage on the Clippers making the playoffs. If Paul was able to drag Emeka Okafor and Aaron Grey to the playoffs, just imagine what he can do with a legitimate supporting cast.

What the Clippers have done here is admirable, ballsy and risky simultaneously. They sacrificed a couple of the young prospects they’ve been stocking up on, along with a former All-Star center for a player who might not even remain with the franchise after next season.

When you’ve only reached the playoffs four times since immigrating to the city 27 years ago, a risky move is better than no move at all. (Did I also mention the Clippers have won fewer than 20 games six times in L.A.?)

Yes, the Lakers questionably gave away Lamar Odom last week for next to nothing. Considering he’s the only remaining player the Lakers got back for Shaquille O’Neal, it hurts even more.

But look on the bright side. Kobe is fresh and ready to go after a long off-season. His partner in crime, Pau Gasol remains a top three center in the league. Metta World Peace can still be an animal defensively when he’s locked in. Steve Blake is due for a comeback season after struggling to learn the triangle offense. The additions of Jason Kapono and Josh McRoberts address some but not all of the Lakers’ issues. And Mitch Kupchak still has over a week to follow through on his promise of a “big move.”

So before Los Angeles falls head over heels for the Clippers, the Lakers first need to relinquish the crown as the kings of the city.


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