L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

19 Comments

  1. Lance says:

    Did the Lakers just give Kobe Bryant 40mil over the coming two seasons? (Think I read that somewhere)
    How crazy for a once great old man!
    It’s the heart ruling the head by management.
    Only reason I can see for it is rewarding him for his service, but they did that throughout the years by paying his for his services on a yearly basis.
    That’s why the Lakers are doomed in the short term (three years) future at least.
    A total lack of forward thinking.
    (PS: I hope Kobe can recreate his form of yesteryear after the injury, but he’s certainly going to have to win some (playoff) games off his own back to re-pay the faith)

  2. J4CK Nicholson says:

    Lakers’ problems are more than coaching. Yes, D’Antoni’s part of the problem but I do commend him for, somehow “winning” despite the heavily depleted lineup. Part of it is the lineup. I can’t believe how they still believe that signing Nash was a good idea in the first place. I do respect him as a player but he’s too slow and will be eaten alive by faster, hungrier guards. But on a positive note the supporting cast is taking shape (Young, Meeks, Henry, Johnson, Hill). And most of all Jim Buss is another big problem. Signing Kobe to $20M/year for 2 years? I would have just gave him $10M max. If Kobe’s really into the 6th ring, he should’ve signed for a lower contract to attract marquee free agents.

    • Andrew says:

      I Like ur comment: Nash is slo, but he still able to bring team together like Kidd won the ring for Dallas few years ago. He is not an all star, but just average guy who want to contribute to the team which is hungry for the ring. Kobe, yeah I completely agree. He should know himself that he is not an all star anymore same like Jordan Wizard’s day. If he really wants to help the company, he should take a huge pay cut like Nash and use this money to attract a superstar who could carry the team into a contender.

  3. LG says:

    I really think that coaching under Mike D’Antoni is not working out. I think it has become pretty obvious by now. The fact that he can’t motivate his players and is unable to connect with Pau is a terrible sign of what his coaching skills are. Mike D’Antoni has to be “waived” to start with and then things should be picked up from there.

    • Rocketman says:

      Look Lakers could have Phil Jackson and they still wouldn’t win.Lets face it they are in a rebuilding phase and Kobe needs to think about retirement. He had a great run but now the wear and tear has caught up. Lakers should gut team and build through the draft and free agency just like the Rockets have!

  4. hopeman says:

    benny hill theme in the lakers front office during every meeting

  5. asdfgjkl; says:

    Whatever they’re discussing about this article, THE LAKERS ARE TANKING TOO

  6. C_los says:

    Lakers had many successful seasons in the past that’s why I’m not being dramatic about the current situation, even the best have had bad times. Dropping 6 straight with 5 injuries and everyone claim the Lakers for disaster……. dudes come on. Every critic suddenly got amnesia forgetting that Lakers had 6 championship games(5won) in the last decade. For those jumping on the clipper Wagon (congrats on a sooo long awaited success) but don’t flap your gums until the end of the season you might jinx yourself. Too early to criticize. Born a Laker die a Laker.

  7. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    “With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency?”

    Hmmm, turning his back? How about LA was too dumb to recognize D12 is the future(no matter what ppl said how bad he is) and not Kobe. If LA made the decision to choose D12 and not letting Kobe bossing everyone around LA will still be in the hunt for the finals. D12 was hurt last year and what did Kobe said? Big boy pants anyone? And did the organization back up D12? Nope. So how will this kind of treatment going to keep your future star player?

    LA has no one to blame but themselves. They are dumb enough to put all in Kobe(which is not his fault IMO) and here they are.

    Dr. Buss will never let this happen.

  8. okc2014 says:

    Oh, and another thought. When a team falls from grace like the Lakers have, I think it’s a good idea to stop writing articles about them. It doesn’t help the situation and it gives them (Lakers) time to lick their wounds, regroup, make trades, get healthy, fire coaches, waive players and whatever else they can do to become relevant. Just sayin. I’m over reading and talking about the Lakers. There are 29 other teams in the NBA.

  9. jonski22 says:

    This is clearly a bad time for the Lakers and the fans. With players like Sacre, Kelly, Williams, Marshall, and other unknowns…what do people expect? The line up pre-Kobe and Shaq was better…Vlade, Elden, Van Exel, Eddie Jones ( which after the trade, i lost track of him)….Jim Buss is the owner..we cannot do anything about it..fans are just hoping thisget better…and the Lakers doesn’t rely on picks…they are good snatching talents…they done it so many times…they can do it again…maybe not now since they tied financially with KObe and Pau….maybe this October, we will have a better line up..Henry, Young, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill, and Meeks, are good role players….

  10. Bill says:

    It is primarily the headline for this article I found so annoying. The actual body of the article was fairly factual. The Lakers are currently one of the worst teams in the league. However, why that is “stunning” to Jeff or anyone is perplexing. The Lakers are low in talent and have been besieged by injuries.

    Their troubles in 2013-2014 were apparent the minute Kobe went down last spring with a career threatening injury, No team loses their stud (think Chicago) without suffering. Where would the Clips be without CP3? Pretty weak I am sure. Nonetheless the Lakers started the year exceeding expectations playing pretty well (considering) but then Blake and Farmar both go down (on top of Nash being done apparently) leaving them with no point guard. The results were pretty predictable.

    Anyway, I am sick of articles pointing out the Lakers are bad. Duh. How is that news? Everything runs in cycles. I guess the miracle that perhaps Jeff is really alluding to is that, thanks to CP3, the Clips are relevant after decades of irrelevance. Good for them. They aren’t going to win anything other than the Pacific Division but they are certainly more fun to watch than the Lakers right now.

    So, for now, as a Lakers fan I guess I’ll have to rely on memories and replays of prior championships won which beats the hell out of being a Clipper fan in my opinion. As for the future, I can’t say. Dr. Buss was clearly one of the best owners of all time and under his leadership the Lakers flourished. Under Jimmy, nothing good has happened (considering trading for Howard turned out to be a bust) yet and so I don’t have any confidence in him.

    In summary, trust me, the Clips don’t represent the city (as they like to say in their advertising). You can cover up the Lakers 16 NBA Championship banners at game time but they are still there and Lakers fans aren’t going over to the Clips during a down time any more than Rocket fans become Maverick or Spurs fans when their team is weak.
    Final word, a request, quit pounding on the Lakers fans, we already know the Lakers are bad. Thanks.

    • Heron says:

      The headline was a good summary, the article was not simply stating the Lakers are bad now and the Clips good,it is pointing out the irony of the fall of one franchise coinciding with the rise of another due to the trade fortunes regarding one player. And taking into account the history of both franchises, that is fairly stunning.

    • LakersWillWin says:

      This sums it up. I bet Dwight is laughing it up right now and not regretting his decision one bit.

  11. Chris says:

    Stern was a better GM than the Lakers could’ve imagined. Imagine how the Pelicans would look with a bruised up Gasol and coked up Odom. Bravo stern, Bravo!

    • allaroundballer says:

      Damn right, and caplan why are you insisting cp3 + kobe are gonna work??? Kobe never play with dominant PG/ball handler. Nash played as spot shooter last season, do you thing cp3 will be doing that?

  12. Kb24 says:

    Stern,with the CP3 veto, destroyed the plans of our legendary franchise