Posted Dec 15 2011 12:47AM
This is not about the Lakers. It's a reflex comparison because the locker rooms are a few yards away in the Staples Center hallway, because the Lakers are the measuring stick for great basketball in Los Angeles at the moment, and because the Lakers are the franchise players want to get to, not compare to being in jail the way Ron Harper once did.
Making this an L.A. thing is thinking too small. What the Clippers did Wednesday in completing the Chris Paul blockbuster in a rare moment of not playing the victim should be about taking on the entire world and nothing less, not worrying about one co-tenant in one building in one city.
You don't take the risk -- a smart risk, but definitely a risk -- of sending Eric Gordon, Minnesota's unprotected first-round pick in the very good 2012 Draft, All-Star Chris Kaman and prospect Al-Farouq Aminu to call out the Lakers. They're part of it as a team with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and with the reach to get into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, but that's it. Part of it.
This was sending a message to all the Western Conference playoff elite for starters, not to mention division rivals Golden State and Phoenix, among others, with similar plans of crashing the postseason. (The East can read the writing across the Wednesday sky as well. It's just that even in their sugar-rush moment of landing a superstar point guard to go with Blake Griffin, the most excited of Clippers loyalists must realize the difference between now being a threat for years and being an instant title contender. One step at a time.)
Even for those of us who argued the Clippers should not risk practically gutting the roster with no promise in return beyond one shortened season with Paul, after which it could all blow up in their face if he left as a free agent, the apparent commitment from CP3 to pick up his 2012-13 option and guarantee at least two years makes it a smart move. The leap of faith had to be made, as a message to Griffin who will be negotiating a new contract soon, as a promise to the fans that had endured, you know, everything, and as a statement to 29 opponents.
Paul is the kind of special player worth stretching for, and it is stretching to give up so much when the Clippers surely would have preferred to surrender Gordon or the Timberwolves selection, not both. But Paul is 26 years old and when last seen was blasting the Lakers apart despite not being close to 100 percent after a knee injury. The Clips didn't have to give up their best player/ top prospect, Griffin, to get him. Heck, the Clips didn't have to give up more than one starter, Gordon, to get him.
If anyone thought Blake Superior was ferocious before, imagine him off the rookie learning curve and with a potential Hall of Fame ball handler delivering the ball in all the right places. We're talking big difference -- coach Vinny Del Negro last season lamented the tendency of teammates to get caught up in being part of the next Griffin highlight moment by throwing crazy lobs to the rim, and now comes the player who led the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Of course, increased pressure to win, like now, also comes to Del Negro as well.
The Clippers are not as good as the Thunder, as poised and experienced as the Mavericks, or as proven as the Lakers and Spurs. They're not as deep any more as several West teams. But they are in the mix at a time one 2011 playoff team, Portland, has an uncertain future and another, Denver, may suffer several free-agent losses. A third, New Orleans, of course just lost its leader and star.
Not only is this a good place for the Clippers to be, it's a good time to be there. The teams with the top three records in the West last season -- the Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks -- are all relying heavily on older players that have piled up a lot of minutes. That obviously changes if Dallas turns great cap room next summer into instant renovation or if the Lakers land Howard. For now, though, we know the Clippers will scare people, with the very real possibility of a change to the threat level once the season starts and an on-court read becomes available.
Point guard -- Paul is 26, a two-way player who will pass, shoot, defend and be a great teammate. Chauncey Billups is 35 and one of the best leaders of his generation. He was less than thrilled to be claimed after being the amnesty cut by the Knicks, so imagine now that he has already been supplanted as the No. 1 ball handler. He can be waived but not traded under the amnesty rules. Mo Williams turns 29 on Monday, the day of the first of two Lakers-Clippers exhibitions. Eric Bledsoe, still a nice prospect at 22, is expected to be out another five to seven weeks with a knee injury.
Shooting guard -- Billups is called Mr. Big Shot. He is a possibility to play with Paul, not behind Paul. Randy Foye is another option to replace Gordon.
Small forward -- Caron Butler was signed as a free agent. Ryan Gomes will play as well.
Power forward -- Griffin seems to have a decent future.
Center -- It was DeAndre Jordan's job to lose anyway after a breakthrough 2010-11. It just became official with Kaman being dealt to New Orleans.
There are holes on the bench and the Clippers will probably lose their own 2012 first-rounder to the Celtics since it is protected through the first 10 picks. This will not be an easy ascension. But it has become more realistic now after Wednesday, and not just about changing perceptions in Los Angeles. That is thinking too small.
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