Weekly Column: They run L.A.: Clips are new city throne holders


The Clippers won the Chris Paul sweepstakes and, with it, they also won over the title of the best team in town. Courtesy of MCT

Perry Smith

The Clippers won the Chris Paul sweepstakes and, with it, they also won over the title of the best team in town. Courtesy of MCT

Could someone please wake me up and tell me that the last two months have only been some utterly hideous NBA nightmare? Because as a longtime Lakers fan, this is about as bad as it gets.

The Lakers and Clippers are moving in their traditionally opposite directions, and Tuesday night provided another rerun of this sporting version of “The Twilight Zone.”

The Lakers were out-toughed down the stretch by a streaking Sixers team that has won seven of its last 10 while the Clippers picked up a tough overtime road win over Orlando.

Though the Clippers lost guard Chauncey Billups for the season to a torn Achilles and will undoubtedly have to rise to the challenge of replacing his 15-points-per-game average, Lob City is standing strong in first place in the Pacific Division following the night’s events. The Lakers, on the other hand, were exposed for what they are – a talented, but fading squad in desperate need of another big trade to get over their hump.

The Lakers’ troubles began before Tuesday’s loss, however, and the Clippers began asserting themselves as the best L.A. team long before their 107-103 gut-it-out win over the Magic.

Maybe, it started with the drafting of DeAndre Jordan in 2008, whose cultivation has been prototypical for how you develop a big man and, subsequently, the antithesis of everything the Clippers have done in the past. Need I mention the slew of failed front-court prospects stretching back from Michael “Candy Man” Olowakandi to Chris Kaman?

And it’s important to note Golden State tried to steal Jordan in the offseason, but the Clippers showed another rare sign of commitment to winning and matched the Warriors’ four-year, $43-million offer. Remember, this is a team that received virtually nothing for Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.

Also, Blake Griffin’s success has been so remarkable it’s almost erased the memory of past Clipper No. 1 picks. Remember, this is a team that used lottery picks on Melvin Ely, Yaroslav Korolev and Shaun Livingston.

Times have changed, haven’t they?

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal no longer dominate the league side-by-side – Kobe now talks of “his history” with O’Neal, which he says made his passing of the future Hall of Fame center in the all-time scoring list against Philadelphia that much more meaningful.

Yes, the three-peat that the duo accomplished certainly feels like ancient history now.

It’s not the Lakers who made the move of the year – remember this is an organization that convinced another team to take Vlade Divac for the draft rights to Bryant, assembled a team of four Hall of Famers in 2003-04 and then, in perhaps the greatest feat in modern sports, managed to obtain Pau Gasol in exchange for Kwame Brown.

This time around, however, it’s the other L.A. team who made the savvy move.

The team’s deft 11th hour maneuvering for Chris Paul, whose 29 points and eight assists made him the star of Tuesday’s show, proved that. They gave up a rising star in Eric Gordon and took a gamble on Paul, who could leave at the end of the season, but so far, it’s paying off.

It’s pretty rare to have something that never happened irrevocably alter the course of two franchises, a season, history itself. But that may have been what happened in December, when David Stern nixed the Lakers’ trade deal for Paul.

Now, with nearly two-thirds of the season left, it might be too early for doomsday calls and suggesting drastic action, such as trading Kobe. Maybe the Lakers just haven’t fully bought into the new system head coach Mike Brown has installed yet.

Maybe the Lakers will take a move from their own playbook and steal Mo Williams from the Clippers’ bench and shore up their point guard need, and then pull off a dramatic, last-second deal for Dwight Howard.

And maybe, just maybe, if and when that happens, NBA Commissioner David Stern won’t get in the way, and allow the Lakers make shrewd moves and return to their nearly-forgotten championship form.

Because I hate “The Twilight Zone” almost as much as I hate running into Clippers fans now.