Posts Tagged ‘ESPNLosAngeles.com’

Clippers Wise To Challenge Lakers Now





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you do when the bully is wounded, down on a knee and struggling to gain his equilibrium?

You pound on him. You take every shot you can to keep him down, to gain whatever measure of satisfaction you can. It’s the law of the jungle, as they say, the way it’s done in the cutthroat world of professional sports.

That’s why the Los Angeles Clippers are wise to strike their Staples Center hallway neighbors now. The Los Angeles Lakers are in a holding pattern with Kobe Bryant fighting his way back from a devastating injury, Dwight Howard gone and guys like Nick Young and Robert Sacre joining Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.

The Clippers had the upper hand last season, when Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the rest of Clipper Darrell‘s favorite team won the Pacific Division. They served as the most exciting team in the Southland — though the Lakers still won the headlines battle because they generated the most drama in SoCal this side of the Kardashians.

Adding front office ace/coach Doc Rivers, sharpshooter J.J. Redick, utility man extraordinaire Jared Dudley and others bolstered the Clippers’ situation over the summer. Rivers helped make sure Paul’s free-agent frenzy ended before it got started, and that led us to this point:

The Clippers covered up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jersey numbers at Staples during a preseason game Friday night, a move initiated by Rivers. And that dials up the energy in the battle for Los Angeles to new levels:

“He can do that?” Young said after Lakers practice Sunday, the team’s first since returning from China. “For real? That’s disrespectful. We got to talk to Doc. He can’t have that. We got to do something about that.”

The Clippers revealed their Staples Center redecoration during a preseason game Friday, as they plastered giant posters of players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal CrawfordMatt Barnes, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick over the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and 10 retired uniforms.

“That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said, somewhat facetiously. “I think he shouldn’t come in and have so much pull like that. He’s got to earn his keep.”

I’m not saying what the Clippers did is right or wrong, but it is certainly understandable when you are battling for the hearts and minds of millions of Angelenos. The Clippers don’t have decades of credibility to lean on in this fight. They have a sliver of an opening to exploit while the Lakers are in flux. They have to go for the jugular.

Bypassing the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for the UFC playbook makes perfect sense. If you can’t win a fair fight (the Clippers are down 16-0 in the titles category and decades behind in the credibility department), it’s time for the by-any-means-necessary approach.

Rivers knows what he’s doing. He understands what it takes. He’s been a part of the only franchise that can rival the Lakers in terms of all-time success. He has a keen insight on how this works.

He knows that maintaining that elite level is just as pressure-packed a situation as trying to get to that level.  So while covering up a few banners and retired jerseys might seem like a stunt to some, it’s much more calculated than that from this perspective. The Clippers are firing shots at the Lakers. They smell blood. They are on the attack.

We’ll find out if they have what it takes to follow through on all of this or if the Lakers have what it takes to fend them off. Either way, fans of both franchises, in Southern California and around the world, will be the biggest winners. Because this sort of contempt only cranks up the level of competition. Just the way it should be.


Johnson Working His Baseball Magic





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Whatever it was that took Hall of Famer Magic Johnson away from the game he adores had to be pretty powerful, especially in Los Angeles.

The only brand that could match, or maybe even surpass, the Los Angeles Lakers in the Southland is Dodgers baseball. While Magic was helping the Showtime Lakers to five NBA titles during their heyday in the 1980s, Tommy Lasorda‘s Dodgers were also busy chasing championship glory, winning two World Series titles during the decade.

Magic and the Dodgers coming together the way they did decades later, when Magic joined the Guggenheim Group that owns the Dodgers and helped revive the franchise, seems almost like it was destined to happen.

They were intertwined, the Lakers star and the famed baseball franchise, during what Lasorda described (in the video above) as the “Golden Age” of LA sports.

Sure, the Dodgers are in a hole right now in the National League Championship Series, down 2-0 to the St. Louis Cardinals. But they are light years away from the drama and turmoil that plagued the franchise in recent years, before Magic and the Guggenheim Group got involved.

As he often did for the Lakers as their star point guard, Magic is already setting the table for Monday’s Game 3 at Dodger Stadium:

When news broke last week that Magic would no longer be a part of ESPN’s NBA coverage, it shouldn’t have come as a complete shocker. He has designs on restoring the Dodgers to the winning and championship tradition they enjoyed during his Showtime Lakers years. And he’ll need to be locked in and focused on that task in order to succeed.

We probably haven’t seen the last of him in an analyst’s role (Magic did guest analyst work for TNT before his stint with ESPN … you never know), but for now, the master of “Showtime” has moved on to the baseball world.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 126): Hollywood Dreaming For 2014!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A week after the biggest names in free agency decided their own futures, you’d think we’d have moved on to talking strictly about the Las Vegas Summer League and our impressions of the rookies we’re finally seeing in action.

With so many players on display in Las Vegas all week, there is no shortage of observing. But we’re not completely finished with the free agent topic around here, not with one of our own feeding the hype about the free agent summer of 2014 and the bounty it could bring one particular franchise in Los Angeles.

That’s right, Rick Fox is ready to dream about the Lakers’ dream scenario of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, would-be prized free agents next summer, joining Kobe Bryant in yet another “Big 3″ for the ages — an idea floated by the fine folks at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

(Dwight who?)

It sounds like a plan, a grandiose plan that would require so many chips to fall the Lakers’ way that we couldn’t let Rick get away with trumpeting the idea without a little scrutiny from his boys.

We couldn’t let that one fly without a rowdy debate about the chances of such a union ever happening. We also had to battle over the one remaining hot topic in free agency: What’s a talented young point guard worth?

Brandon Jennings still doesn’t know for sure where he will play next season. We examine the dilemma facing the restricted free agent and the teams that might be interested in pursuing him but have yet to make him an offer the Milwaukee Bucks can refuse.

You get all of that and so much more on Episode 126 of the Hang Time Podcast: Hollywood Dreaming For 2014 …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Paul Confirms He’s ‘All In’ With Clippers



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Chris Paul‘s free-agent summer is over.

He’s sticking with the Los Angeles Clippers, as expected, and Tweeted out the news for anyone who didn’t know:

That ends the major free agent business of the summer for the Clippers, who added Doc Rivers as their coach and senior vice president of basketball operations last week.

Paul has agreed to put his signature on a five-year, $107 million deal that will include the standard opt-out after the fourth year. Paul will not be able to sign the deal until July 10th, when the league moratorium on signing new deals is lifted.

Any suggestions of the Clippers doing business the way they did during their leanest years seem to have evaporated with the Rivers ranking as the highest-paid coach in the league along with stars like Paul and Blake Griffin piling up the big bucks. Time will tell if this sort of spending leads to the championship caliber team that everyone involved desires.

Report: Dwight Howard To Reveal His Choice July 10


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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – At least we have a date now.

July 10, nine days after the NBA’s free agency free-for-all begins and the day the league’s moratorium on players signing new contracts is lifted, we should know exactly where Dwight Howard is headed.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star center, the top free agent target of the summer, will have his process wrapped up and a decision made between suitors that include the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and others, per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

A source close to the All-Star center told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Howard expects to be ready to choose his team as soon as the NBA’s moratorium on new business is lifted July 10.

That information jibed with [Lakers GM Mitch] Kupchak‘s thinking.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest, I think, to proceed in a timely fashion,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Dwight’s goal to drag it out. Whether he’s with us or with another team, everybody this time of year has business to take care of. If he’s here, he wants us to know that so we can build around him in this period of free agency, when it moves very quickly, and if he’s with somebody else, that team is going to want the same thing.

“If you’re Dwight, you would want the same thing as well. You would want to give your team notice as quick as possible so they can make the changes that they need to make to make your team more effective. So I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to move as quick as possible.”

Rumblings that Howard is not likely to return to the Lakers will no doubt intensify as he entertains his other suitors, but Kupchak does not sound like a man who is ready to surrender.

In fact, he’s seems far more confident than you’d expect, given the trail of crumbs that suggest Howard isn’t particularly fond of Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and the way he was used in conjunction with Lakers’ stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol during the team’s tumultuous 2012-13 season.

But you’d be confident, too, with a $30 million card in your hand that no one else can play. Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the team will continue their measured pursuit, which includes strategically placed billboards around the city encouraging Howard to stick around, in the days and hours leading up to the July 1 open of free agency:

“I don’t think anything dramatic is going to take place on June 30 at 9:01 [p.m. PT] regarding Dwight,” Kupchak said. “My understanding is there are several other teams that have great interest and he’s going to have a process that I understand to be pretty deliberate that he’s going to go through, and we’ll be involved in that process and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change. Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change.

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “Kobe’s been back for seven or eight years now. What did people think about him? There was a period where Kobe was earning his stripes in Los Angeles. I think when he came back, he had to continue. Here it is, seven, eight or nine years later, and I think that’s what would happen with Dwight once he puts his roots down and says, ‘This is the place I want to be.’

“I think that’s part of the problem. I think the city feels they were renting him for a year. But the reality is he couldn’t sign an extension. Financially, the rules provide that he wait until July 1 to get the best deal he could possibly get. It was one of those situations where please tell us you want to be here and please show us you want to be here. But he can’t do it until July 1. I think that’s part of it. Of course the way the season went didn’t help things either.”

With the clock formally ticking for Howard’s services, you can bet the teams interested in moving him out of California will do what they can to sway him. This is already true for the Mavericks, whose superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, has talked with Howard on his own volition to gauge Howard’s interest, writes Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram:

On Monday, Howard will become one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents in NBA history. And the Mavs want to make him their new franchise player and turn their current franchise player, Nowitzki, into their No. 2 option.

It’s a philosophy Nowitzki, who turned 35 last week, has easily bought into. That’s why he’s already had a conversation with Howard about a union in Dallas.

“I reached out to him and told him we’d love to have him,” Nowitzki said. “It’s not like we call each other every day.

“I didn’t write him a letter. We just had a little phone contact. That’s about it.”

With Howard patrolling the middle for the Mavs, Nowitzki knows he would have an excellent shot at winning another NBA championship before he retires.

“To me, when he’s healthy he’s the most dominant big man in the league,” Nowitzki said of Howard. “He’s shown that at the end of the season when he was right what he can still do.

“He can dominate on both ends of the floor if he feels healthy, he can still use his athleticism. He’s a beast on both ends of the floor.”

“He’s the kind of guy you can just get the ball to in the post, and I’ll just spread the floor,” Nowitzki said. “On the defensive end, he’s a guy that can protect the rim and a guy that’s obviously a luxury.

“We’d love to have him, but so would all of the other teams with cap room. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”

The next 12 days should be an interesting ride for all involved, especially for the Lakers and their fans!

Report: Clippers Targeting Pacers’ Shaw



MIAMI – The Los Angeles Clippers might have solution to whatever problems have been created with prized point guard Chris Paul recently.

Former Lakers and current Indiana Pacers’ assistant Brian Shaw is at the top of the Los Angeles Clippers’ wish list, according to Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com, along with Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. One of these guys could help give the Clippers some much-needed stability in their coaching situation with free agency less than a month away:

Shaw is considered the team’s top choice at this point, multiple sources said. His youth, championship experience with the Los Angeles Lakers and player development skills, which have been showcased by his work with Indiana’s Paul George and Lance Stephenson, have intrigued the Clippers management and players. He also received strong reviews from Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who played under Shaw with the Lakers.

But since no candidate has formally interviewed for the position, or met with Clippers owner Donald Sterling, the situation remains fluid. The Clippers front office has done extensive background work on a handful of candidates: Shaw, Hollins, former Cleveland coach Byron Scott, former Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Denver head coach George Karl.

Van Gundy was previously near the top of the Clippers search, but talks with him have cooled recently, sources said. Karl is also still under consideration, but the Clippers have yet to formally ask permission from Denver to speak with him. Karl, the NBA’s Coach of the Year after leading the starless Nuggets to a franchise-record 57 wins, will enter the final year of his contract with a new general manager at the helm, following Masai Ujiri‘s departure to Toronto. A source said Saturday that his situation in Denver remains “unsettled.”

Convincing Shaw to leave the Pacers for the Clippers would be a coup for the franchise that has bungled the process since coach Vinny Del Negro was let go. But they have to move quickly where Shaw is concerned since he’s at the top of Brooklyn’s search list as well. Both jobs offer some interesting specifics for a first-time coach.

The respective owners, the Clippers’ Donald Sterling and the Nets’ Mikhail Prokhorov, have very different styles. And you better believe that will be a factor in Shaw’s decision-making process, depending on how quickly things process on both fronts.

Report: Kobe Aiming For An Opening Day Return, Will Recruit Dwight Howard





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs occupy the minds of most NBA fans right now as the conference finals end and we get ready for The Finals, Kobe Bryant is quietly plotting his comeback in Los Angeles.

The Lakers’ superstar is deep into the rehabilitation process from season-ending Achilles surgery and has set his sights on an earlier than expected return to action, telling Dave McMenamin of the ESPNLosAngeles.com in an exclusive Monday interview that he’s hoping to return for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener:

“I hope so,” Bryant said . “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.

“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”

In addition to plotting his own return, Bryant plans on being an active recruiter for the Lakers’ biggest free-agent target, center Dwight Howard. Howard is sure to be entertaining suitors from coast to coast July 1 when free agency kicks off. Bryant and Howard got off to a rocky start as teammates this season but appear to have grown closer throughout the tumultuous ride.

Bryant said he’ll step in when needed and make sure to impress upon Howard the importance of the big man being a part of the master plan in Los Angeles:

“For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be,” Bryant said. “We all want him here. But then that’s when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don’t start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.

“I’ll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.”

That has to be music to the ears of Lakers fans. Having the man who has served as the face of the franchise for much of the past decade and a half work this hard to make sure Howard serves as his eventual franchise successor speaks volumes about where Bryant is in his career.

With the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are  all reportedly preparing recruiting pitches for Howard (who, along with Chris Paul and Josh Smith, are the headliners in the free-agent class), the Lakers have to be prepared with a pitch of their own. The more input and influence from Bryant it seems, the better.

Only time will tell if it works out for Bryant on both fronts. We’d be foolish to doubt his resolve as he attempts to come back earlier than expected from his injury. In fact, convincing Howard to stick with the Lakers might be the more difficult of the two tasks.

Howard has managed to avoid doing any interviews since the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs, so anyone assuming what he might do is going off of sourced information and little else.


Dwight, D’Antoni And The Lakers’ Big Rift?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For months it appeared the Los Angeles Lakers’ free-agent summer plans would hinge on the relationship between two men, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers’ two biggest stars had to find common ground if this multi-million dollar experiment is going to bear fruit in the future. They had to be on the same accord going into the summer for Howard to ignore the other options he has as an unrestricted free agent and stick with the Lakers after a tumultuous first season in Hollywood.

Not everyone is convinced that the Howard-Bryant dynamic is the linchpin to the Lakers’ plans, though. Another man, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, could very well be the central figure on the Lakers’ side. Perhaps it’s his relationship with Howard, and not Bryant, that holds the key to the future between the All-Star big man and the franchise known for Hall of Fame big men.

As folks in Orlando can attest, this could be the start of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak‘s very own Dwightmare!

While Howard hasn’t so much as spoken a word publicly about his future, there are rumblings in Los Angeles that he plans on entertaining free-agent pitches from the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, instead of simply agreeing to the $118 million offer the Lakers have planned for him on July 1 when free agency opens.

Howard’s rationale for listening, however complex, apparently has as much to do with his murky relationship with D’Antoni than any of the other factors, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.

Every player was afforded the opportunity to meet with Kupchak individually after D’Antoni left the room, but few spent as much time as Howard and Kupchak did together. Antawn Jamison also had a separate meeting with Kupchak without D’Antoni present, but that was because of a scheduling conflict.

Kupchak left the meeting with Howard undeterred, telling reporters he was “hopeful” and “optimistic” that Howard would be back with the Lakers next season and beyond, yet there have been several developments in the last couple weeks that could have an effect on Howard’s decision.

D’Antoni chose not to retain assistant coach Chuck Person, a Howard confidant, on his staff for next season. Also, Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who was with Howard in Orlando for five seasons before both of them came to L.A. last year, has become a hot head coaching candidate, interviewing with Milwaukee and receiving interest from Charlotte.

One source described the potential departure of Clifford, coupled with the loss of Person as “removing the buffers,” between Howard and D’Antoni, “which is a bad thing.”

Howard’s relationship with Bryant seemed much healthier at the end of the Lakers’ season than it did at any other time throughout the season. He visited Bryant at the hospital after he’d had Achilles surgery and Bryant spoke glowingly of Howard during his exit interview.

Bryant is going to do his best to mend fences and rebuild bridges this summer for the Lakers in what is truly a colossal summer for the franchise. The NBA’s social media king took to Twitter to spread that message to the masses:

But if there is a rift (spoken or not) between Howard and D’Antoni, even Kobe might have a hard time fixing it. Especially with all of the other options that will be presented to Howard in about six weeks.

The Lakers cannot afford to enter the 2013-14 season with Bryant still on the mend from that Achilles injury and only Nash and Pau Gasol as headliners in a Western Conference that could be as deep as it’s been in years. Having Howard on board would keep the Lakers among the playoff crowd. Without him, there is no telling where the Lakers land.

While the situation seems dire to some, Kupchak believes he has a better grip on things than the rest of us think. More from McMenamin:

Kupchak did not seem worried about any potential rift between player and coach.

“I think Dwight likes winning, he likes performing at a high level,” Kupchak said. “I think he’s fine with Mike D’Antoni, but I’m not really concerned if players like a coach, so I don’t ask that question. Our coaches are evaluated by wins and losses.”

Kupchak was further pressed about the possibility of a coaching change being dictated by a player.

“This organization has a precedent with that kind of a situation and I think we learned our lesson,” Kupchak said, referring to when Paul Westhead was fired in the early ’80s and the decision was tied to Magic Johnson‘s wishes. Whether that was the real story or not, both Johnson and the Lakers organization took a hit for how it was perceived.

We’ll know better in six weeks just how big a rift there is, if at all, between Howard and D’Antoni.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your latest Dwightmare!


Kobe, Lakers Won’t Go Without A Fight



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are a must-watch down the stretch of this season, for reasons that were ridiculously obvious during a historic (for Bryant) Wednesday night in Portland.

Bryant played the entire game, scored a season-high 47 points and finished with an unprecedented stat line as the Lakers rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 113-106 and move a full game ahead of the idle Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase with just three games to play.

The Lakers have won four out of five to continue their season-defining playoff stand, a charge led by the wicked Bryant, who torched the Blazers with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals — filling the box score in a way that no player before him has. (He also outdueled Portland Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, who was spectacular himself with 38 points and nine assists.)

Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, Kobe is going to make sure their final three games are played with an intensity and at a pace that is playoff-worthy. That’s just who he is and has been his entire NBA career. There have been times when his individual drive and focus have been detrimental to his team (early in his career for sure and again later, when he and Shaquille O’Neal battled for control of the team). There’s no Phil Jackson around this time to balance the scales.

All that said, there is no player I’d rather watch under these extreme circumstances. The Lakers’ season goes into the category as one of the greatest crimes against the game if a crew with Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash doesn’t find its way into the postseason.

Would it have been nice to see the same sense of urgency in December that we all saw last night? Of course. In or out the postseason, a CSI crew will be needed to comb through the scattered wreckage of the Lakers’ regular season. There’s no way it was supposed to go down the way it has.

Kobe’s fingerprints will be all over the wreckage, along with those of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and just about anyone else inside the organization you want to throw in the mix.

Even after Bryant saved the Lakers’ bacon in Portland, the reviews seemed somewhat mixed from some of his teammates, per my main man Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.

“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”

It wouldn’t be necessary every night if the Lakers had worked these issues out earlier in the season. They’ve been riding this roller coaster since training camp, with established veterans trying to sort out their roles — first under Mike Brown and since those first five games under Mike D’Antoni. (more…)

The Curious Case Of The Lakers And Spurs






HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – History will decide whose era (and empire) reigned supreme over the NBA and ultimately which franchise — between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs — gets to stamp this generation in the league as “theirs.”

The case for each franchise is strong. There are Hall of Fame players, all-time great coaches, championship banners and lasting memories on both sides of the divide. It’s up to each observer to make their own determination as to whose body of work is stronger.

At a legends brunch during All-Star Weekend years from now, you’d love to be at the table with Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as the conversation cranks up (with Duncan no doubt choosing to opt out of the conversation and Bryant no doubt proclaiming the dominance of his Lakers).

But there is no doubt that one outfit is handling the final years, months and, perhaps days, of their dominant era much better than the other. The Spurs remain mighty, among the Western Conference and NBA’s best while the Lakers are in the midst of one of the biggest meltdowns we’ve seen of a proposed championship team.

The two teams we’ll see on the floor tonight in San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. The Spurs are going about their business as always, oblivious to the outside world that loves to ignore them this time of year, all while plotting another deep playoff run in the twilight of the Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker-Gregg Popovich era.

Bryant and his crew, two-time MVP Steve Nash and injured bigs Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, are limping through the meat of their season and staring at the very real possibility that this superstar experiment could end up with a burned down laboratory and a trip to the lottery. That’s a fate no one expected when the Lakers’ front office put this group together.

Yet that potential outcome has to be acknowledged at this stage of the season by the most experienced members of the Lakers’ contingent, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com details here:

The 38-year-old Nash also admitted he has seriously considered the possibility that the Lakers, despite all their preseason hype and championship aspirations, might not even make the playoffs this season.

“That motivates me every day,” Nash said. “There’s no guarantee [that the Lakers make the playoffs]. I think three or four weeks ago, people would have said, ‘Ah, it will get better.’ Now I definitely don’t think there’s a guarantee it will, so the only remedy is continue to work hard and give yourself a chance for it to get better.

“I obviously think with time, and that might mean through the summer, we can get better. But for this season, it’s definitely going to be a challenge to turn this around. … We got a number of things we got to try to improve on to get better, but one thing that we can’t accept is to take our foot off the gas and accept things. We got to continue to fight.”

Kobe Bryant, who entered the NBA in the same 1996 draft class as Nash, can commiserate.

“We were walking around at shootaround, and we just kind of looked at each other, and I said to him, ‘We thought it was going to be easier this year for once,'” Bryant said with a laugh.

Bryant refused to succumb to the circumstances, however.

“[Nash] is a little more reasonable than I am,” Bryant said. “That’s how we kind of bounce off of each other. I’m as stubborn as a mule. I’m going to keep driving this thing forward and so is he, but he tends to have more perspective than I do.”

It’s fair to say that Kobe’s stubborn streak might have cost the Lakers several more titles than the five they’ve accumulated during his time with the franchise. Had the Lakers kept their hoops trinity of Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant and Phil Jackson together as long as the Spurs have maintained their championship nucleus, there wouldn’t be an argument as to whose era it was.

The Spurs stuck to their beliefs — that you keep the core intact, exchange the periphery pieces when needed and always keep an eye out for young and emerging talent. The Lakers, meanwhile, have never been afraid to gamble big on the quick fix, cashing in at times (with the acquisition of Gasol, which led to back-to-back titles) and eating it at others (like now).

History will document both sides, their moves and each and every respective success and failure.

But right here, right now the verdict seems simple.