A Summer of Decisions

Leading the way: Chris Paul was instrumental in leading  the Los Angeles Clippers to its first Pacific Division title. Photo Credit: Burt Harris/Prensa Internacional
Leading the way: Chris Paul has been instrumental in leading the Los Angeles Clippers to its first Pacific Division title. Photo Credit: Burt Harris/Prensa Internacional

The NBA’s free agency market will get popping less than a month away. A lot of hard decisions will have to be made. For both the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, a lot is riding on this period. A lot of movement is going to be made.

The Clippers and the Lakers have to make sure they are making the right moves. The right decisions could keep either team or both relevant in contention for an NBA title for years to come. The wrong basketball choices could be a setback for the two respective franchises.

The Clippers are a perfect example of a team executing a plan through trade, selection of draft picks and picking up valuable players via free agency in recent years. The results have been spectacular for Clipper Nation.

Before bowing out of the postseason the Memphis Grizzles in the first round, the Clippers posted a superb season, winning the Western Conference Division title this year, and advancing to the playoffs for the second straight year.

Franchises like the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, traditional NBA powers, may not blink an eye over those achievements. But that’s pretty impressive stuff for a franchise that has long been mired in the muck when it comes to NBA relevancy.

These last two seasons have been a joy to watch the Clippers. They have become the darlings of the NBA in two short seasons. “Lob City” has become the hottest catchphrase since Magic Johnson and the “Showtime” Lakers made going to the movies seemed boring compared to what basketball fans saw on the court.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling and general manager Gary Sacks are now challenged to keep the excitement going. Continuing to move the brand to the NBA’s penthouse level is going to take a lot more of the team produced the last two years. And that begins with the signing point guard Chris Paul.

Without Paul there is no “Lob City.” Take away Paul and you might as well take the show out the entertainment value of the Clippers. Yes, the Clippers have Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe doing some amazing things in the air.

But it is Paul who propels them to take off and fly with his artistic and gravity-defying lobs. Besides that, Paul just happens to be the top point guard in the league as his All-NBA First Team selection would indicate.

The craziest thing about the Paul melodrama unfolding is the fact that he came to Los Angeles originally to join the Lakers and stand next to Kobe Bryant in the Purple and Gold through a trade with New Orleans. Commissioner David Stern and the NBA blocked everything and said no to the deal.

The next thing anyone knew was that Paul still found his way to the City of Angeles-only to become a member of the Clippers. So far, it’s worked out well for that other team in Los Angeles.

The Clippers are trying their best to make sure that it stays that way. The Clippers are doing everything in their power to make sure that their superstar stays with the team, even going as far as to not retaining Vinny Del Negro as head coach.

The Lakers are hoping center Dwight Howard stays with the team.
The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping center Dwight Howard stays with the team.

The dilemma facing the Lakers may not be as simple. The Lakers have questions abounding everywhere.   The Lakers have a winning tradition and 16 NBA championships of on their side. It is assumed the Lakers will eventually get it right to stay among the elite teams in the league.

However, judging by the endless drama and disappointing seasons the last couple of years, that is not a guarantee for a franchise that lost its anchor in owner Dr. Jerry Buss.  Let’s start with the oblivious. Dwight Howard.

Howard was more than a little disappointing in his only season with the Lakers. Howard talked a good game. He smiled a lot. But at the end of the day, Howard was a massive failure in delivering deep postseason aspirations for the Lakers.

With Kobe Bryant out with a torn Achilles, Howard and the Lakers got swept under the rug by the San Antonio Spurs, a team that will be playing in the NBA Finals. The thing about Howard is that he widely considered to be the best big man in the game.

Yet his production on the court resembled something less at times than what Andrew Bynum did in his career with the team. It is clear Howard has a problem with being second fiddle as the Alpha Dog on a team led by the Black Mamba. He has an identity crisis.

The Lakers are in the same boat. With Mike D’Antoni serving as coach in replacement of Mike Brown, the Lakers wanted to re-invent “Showtime” with tired legs, with a non-athletic roster and no collective resemblance of being on the same page. The results have been nothing short of chaotic bedlam.

When he comes back, Bryant will still be the best closer in the game. Pau Gasol, under used last season, comes back. Metta World Peace is older. Stave Nash has proven he is running on fumes of his former All-Star self.

Then there is the unstable circus that Howard brings to the table. The Lakers are hopeful Howard decides to keep his Hollywood smile in Los Angeles. If he does, the Lakers will at least have a mainstay for years to come.

It is interesting to see how the dynamics of the Clippers and Lakers played out the last two seasons. It will be even more intriguing to watch what transpires July 1, the first day players can openly shop their talents to the highest bidder.

Paul will have to choose where his next home will be. Howard will have to stop waffling and has to finally make up his mind about if he wants to remain with the Lakers or head elsewhere.

 

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