Strange Times in LA

By Dennis Berry

There has been little doubt that the undisputed king of Los Angeles basketball over the years is the Lakers. They have made the playoffs every season but four since moving to LA in 1960. They have won a total of 16 NBA Championships, 12 have coming in Los Angeles.

When you think basketball in LA, you think Lakers.

It is just the opposite for the other pro basketball team in the city. The Clippers have long lived in the shadows of the Lakers. They have made the playoffs only five times since moving to LA in 1984. During that stretch they have only had a winning record three times.

For most of their time in LA, the Clippers have been one of the worse franchises in sports.

Yet right now the two franchises seemed to be headed in opposite directions. The Clippers are the team on the rise. The Lakers are a team full of questions.

The Lakers never seemed to get it all together this season. They started off slow and had trouble winning on the road. They did turn it around and finished first in the Pacific Division and claimed the third seed in the West. Yet there they were again getting pushed out of the playoffs in the second round.

When you look at the Lakers, you see a team whose core is aging. Kobe Bryant is 33, but has been in the league since 1996. Pau Gasol is 31. Metta World Peace is 32.

Not all their key pieces are old though.

They do have Andrew Bynum, who is just 24. Bynum has been up and down so far with the Lakers. He has shown that he can be a dominant offensive force in post. Yet, he has also vanished in big moments when the Lakers need him and can be immature.

One area that the Lakers have to improve is at point guard. They tried to get Chris Paul and that trade was vetoed by the league. Then they traded for Ramon Sessions during the season in hopes he would be the answer, but he added little to the team.

The Lakers are in a tough spot to improve the team. They have no first round pick in the 2012 or 2013 NBA Draft. So they cannot improve through the draft.

Strange Times in LA
Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka (9) and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Pau Gasol (16) go for the ball in the first half of game four in the Western Conference semi finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center. Photo Courtesy By Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE.

It will be hard for the Lakers to improve by trades because they have very little to offer. The most attractive player would be Bynum. Will the Lakers put him on the block? The only other player that might interest teams would be Gasol, but his contract calls for almost $19 million next year. Will a team want to pick that up?

The Clippers on the other hand are a team that is built around young talented players. The Clippers have used the draft to get the likes of DeAndre Jordan (23), Eric Bledsoe (22), and Blake Griffin (23).

What drove the rise of the Clippers was the acquisition of Chris Paul. After the trade to the Lakers was denied, the Clippers were able to land the All-Star point guard. Once Paul was on board, expectations went up.

The Clippers answered them. They went 40-26 in the lockout shortened season. They won just their third playoff series in the history of the team. They did that by knocking out the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that many thought would make the Western Conference Finals. Then they were swept by the Spurs in the second round, which was a learning experience.

The Clippers are not without holes though. While Griffin is an explosive player, he still has to develop offensively. He has limited moves in the post, but he did show that his low post game is expanding in the playoffs.

They also need better play from shooting guard. Randy Foye started all 11 games in the playoffs this year, but only averaged seven points a game. His back up Nick Young, who is a streaky shooter, only averaged eight a game.

Will either team make a move this offseason? It will be hard to believe that the Lakers will sit by and not do anything. The franchise is not happy with just making the playoffs, they want to make the Finals and win titles.

They are going to have to improve the roster to make that happen. Could they make a move for Dwight Howard? Perhaps improve point guard by getting Deron Williams.

This offseason will be the true test for the Clippers. If they are serious about winning, they need to show it. If they want to keep Griffin and Paul long term, they have to show them they are willing to surround them with the talent need to win a title.

This will be an interesting offseason to watch in LA. Will the Lakers continue their history of success or are the Clippers on their way to staking their claim of Hollywood?

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