Whicker: Clippers, Lakers can’t just have eyes for each other

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersOklahoma City will be formidable if it can resist the urge to trade Russell Westbrook. Paul George was an MVP Finalist there (unlike Kawhi Leonard) but Danilo Gallinari is a 19-20-point constant and young guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has All-Star stuff within him.Milwaukee isn’t going anywhere. And note that Toronto was 17-5 when Leonard sat in the regular season.But one can’t overstate the tectonic effect of the Clippers signing Leonard and trading for Paul George, the one scenario that a week of towering babble never anticipated.The Lakers quickly activated Plan B. It was barely midnight when they agreed to terms with Danny Green. On Saturday they brought in Quinn Cook and welcomed back Rajon Rondo and JaVale McGee. Then the Lakers signed DeMarcus Cousins for one year, a well-managed risk.With Davis and LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma, the terms will be clear. Leonard’s appeal was based on the historic defensive possibilities that he, Davis and James could fashion. But the Lakers can’t miss the man they never had, and they risked an offense with too many cooks.Related Articles Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions Clippers rookies key overtime victory over Oklahoma City A quick survey among 28 NBA teams indicated they still plan to participate in the 2019-20 season.It will not be the El Segundo City Championship, not automatically.The Denver Nuggets return intact, with Nikola Jokic ready to carry forward his playoff averages of 25 points, 13.8 rebounds and 8.4 assists. No introductions and adjustments are necessary. The Nuggets should fly out of the gate.Portland will be just as good, Utah markedly better. Philadelphia tilted the Eastern Conference by signing Al Horford, a Renaissance player who in Boston was an insoluble riddle for Joel Embiid. Meanwhile, the Clippers drew a painstaking map and followed it. It’s the basketball equivalent of Manchester City moving alongside Manchester United.While the Lakers were undercutting Mitch Kupchak, tying themselves to Magic Johnson’s people skills and hiring Rob Pelinka to bring his agent’s portfolio to the contradictory process of team-building, the Clippers had Jerry West.They also had Doc Rivers coaching and Michael Winger, Lawrence Frank and Lee Jenkins in the front office.Methodically they vaporized decades of poor decision-making. Only three years ago they seemed destined for the abyss as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were nearing a breakup. But they acquired Pat Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, basically their core, for Paul, and they got Tobias Harris for Griffin and then traded him to make room for Leonard. They farmed out Jordan’s salary, and he’s been with three teams since.The Clippers did all this detailing without suffering as much as one losing season, and missed the playoffs only once, while the Lakers dwelt in a septic tank for six years. The Clippers also tailored a communal, no-frills personality that fits Leonard’s.All of this was rooted in 2012 when then-Commissioner and New Orleans steward David Stern inexplicably prohibited the Lakers from trading for Paul but allowed the Clippers to do so.But it also can be traced to 2014. Adam Silver had just succeeded Stern and was charged with cutting out the cancer of Donald T. Sterling. He did so with ruthless precision and won over a whole league of players. Then the impossibly rich and ambitious Steve Ballmer bought the club, hired smart guys and let them work.Leonard had no bad options. Re-signing with Toronto would have been a punishing tax decision, but he is, or was, a national hero and could have won at least one more championship. Signing with the Lakers would have created a Blind Faith-style supergroup and, just with Leonard, Davis and James, a team of historic defensive possibilities.And who can psychoanalyze Leonard? But the Clippers offered something he’d never had: Control.He was under-recruited in Riverside and wound up at San Diego State, in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He was under-drafted, going No. 15 to San Antonio which traded George Hill for the pick, and was an NBA Finals MVP. He was under-valued when he and the Spurs clashed over his quadriceps injury, and most of the intelligentsia thought Toronto gave up too much, in DeMar DeRozan, to get him. Then he won another NBA Finals MVP.Just this once, Leonard had a chance to set the agenda, to find a Sundance Kid and ride with him.Still, Los Angeles will be the home of intra-city Christmas Night games for the next four years. Staples Center garages will add $20 to park. The courtside seats will be everyone’s red carpet.Using an earthquake as their drum roll, the Clippers and Lakers became the NBA’s best rivalry on Friday night. That will mean something special, as long as they remember they’re not in a league of their own. Clippers’ rhythm is missing but their spirits strong before playoff opener last_img

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