It has been a perennial rivalry at the Staples Center for the two NBA teams that share the same venue. For a big portion of the past, the Lakers stand tall and cast a long shadow over their tenants, the Clippers.
The chain of events for the past few years has changed the trend such that the leader isn't as clear as it used to be. Below we take a look at the contributing factors that blurred this distinction and how the tides may change if this continues.
1. Jerry West
The ‘NBA logo’, Jerry West, is not just a Laker legend, a Champion but also a brilliant basketball mind. As a player, he was a champion, a Most Valuable Player and multiple-year All-Star. He won eight championships when he helmed a team as an executive and he won NBA Executive of the Year Awards for two times. His stint as executive and advisor at the Golden State Warriors helped built the strong foundation for their current success.
Jerry West has joined the Clippers as their executive board member and this is a mammoth of a deal. The planning and moves behind the scenes cannot be underestimated. Jerry is a winner and an ultimate competitor. You can bet your last dime that the Clippers is already enhanced and upgraded the moment Jerry West began his deliberation for this team.
2. Financial Flexibility
This season, the Clippers made extremely shrewd moves to acquire quality players while preserving or expanding their cash position.
The trade of Tobias Harris meant that the Clippers freed up a huge sum for future years that would otherwise be locked up in 2020 when Tobias is due for his maximum contract.
The Clippers acquired solid veteran players. They timed their acquisition perfectly, securing a league-leading bench star and offensive veteran in Lou Williams, as well as bagging the tenacious defensive hound in Patrick Beverley, both of which were signed under very favorable contacts that don't break the bank.
3. Get Youth While Weakening Lakers
The Clippers also managed to weaken their cross-street rival through a clever trade that sent an older Mike Muscala to the Lakers in return for a younger Ivica Zubac, who is showing a high ceiling of growth.
Getting rid of an older and potentially more pricey veteran in exchange for youth, budget contract and huge upside, all these whilst weakening your rival. Pretty crafty move.
4. Injury Plagued Lakers
2019 started with a bang, progressed to a whimper and ended with a screeching halt for the Lakers.
The super signing of LeBron James followed the acquisition of solid hustle veterans such as JaVale McGee, Lance Stephenson and Michael Beasley quickly turned down a slippery road when the injury bug caught up.
All the starters have had some form of injury, sidelining most of them and preventing the full line-up from really building chemistry. Through November 2018 to January 2019, we saw flashes of ShowTime Lakers 2.0 that led the Lakers into as high as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Once the injuries began, the team quickly disintegrated.
Lonzo Ball was out with a knee injury and an ankle injury. LeBron James had a bad groin injury. Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma had brief stints of knee and back issues. Rajon Rondo broke his hand. Even towards the end of the season, Brandon Ingram became down with (the same worrisome condition that derailed Chris Bosh’s career) Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Without everyone in full health, we would never see the Lakers full potential, much less see any wins.
5. Inexperience Coaching Staff
The Lakers coaching staff used to be the talk of the town because of Luke Walton, the young coach who helped Steve Kerr bring the Warriors to a blistering start while he was there.
However, the team of coaching staff behind Luke doesn't have as much playoff experience as the other supporting staff within the Clippers coaching staff. This is starting to show as the Lakers head coach is unable to bring out the best or improvise when his players get injured. The rotations are brief, mixed and inconsistent. There were a few instances when veteran players did confront Luke to thrash out their thoughts about the coaching decisions and rotations. This surely doesn't bode well for a coach’s first year with a new squad including LeBron James.
Based on the above factors, the Clippers are having the upper hand at the moment. The tipping point may come in 2020 and 2021 when huge name free agents make their decision to sign with Los Angeles. Whichever team can land one or two Super Star players and a few quality bench players would have enough cache to clinch the honor of ‘Best NBA team of LA’.