Los Angeles Lakers promising future, Los Angeles Clippers inevitable demise unsurprising

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Larry Nance Jr. #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers boxes out against the LA Clippers on November 27, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Larry Nance Jr. #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers boxes out against the LA Clippers on November 27, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers find themselves heading in opposite directions, which was to be expected to eventually happen.

Just three years ago, the Los Angeles Lakers found themselves at the bottom of the NBA. A team that once was a dominant force in the NBA now lacked direction and identity.

Ending the 2014-15 season at 21-61, the light at the end of the tunnel looked needle thin, and the Lakers entered the realm of futility. The Los Angeles Clippers, heading the opposite direction, finished that same season with a 56-26 record, their 3rd straight 50-plus win season.

The Clippers were finally winning and were enjoying their reign over the Lakers, possibly more than being a championship contender. “Lob City” and its fans hated being considered as “L.A.’s other team” and took pleasure at watching every Chris Paul alley-oop to Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan, especially dunks that put Pau Gasol on a poster.

Today, it seems the Clippers’ reign as top dog in Los Angeles is slowly drizzling away.

For the past two years, the NBA put the Lakers and Clippers against each other on Christmas Day. A typical L.A. vs L.A. story-arc was used, providing a moderate storyline, something the NBA has routinely done for teams playing on Christmas. The marquee matchup was usually saved for the previous years’ NBA Finals teams. Or if your team had Kobe Bryant or Lebron James.

Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers /

Los Angeles Lakers

The NBA chose to go a different route for both LA teams this holiday. The Lakers, a perennial mainstay on Christmas, could go 0-31 and still find a slot to fill. The Minnesota Timberwolves will travel to Los Angeles, in what will be an exciting game between two teams trending upward. The Lakers are etched in permanent ink for Christmas Day games, but for the other 29 teams, they either have to be a playoff contender or at least entertaining enough to be chosen to play on December 25th. Minnesota, way ahead of the Lakers as far as progression, are 4th in the Western Conference, deserving of their 2nd straight Christmas Day game.

The Clippers, once both exciting and a contender, currently, no longer fits that bill. The NBA did not schedule them for Christmas, the first time since 2011. Much has changed since that time, with the Lakers and Clippers meeting somewhere in the middle of the proverbial totem pole, yet setting for opposite courses.

A bit past the quarter mark of the season, the Clippers find themselves only a game ahead of their L.A. counterpart in the standings. Once yielding a more promising future than the Lakers, the Clippers could see a return to being a run-of-the-mill NBA team.

The Clippers’ entered this season without point-guard Chris Paul, traded in the offseason to Houston in exchange for Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, and a handful of 3rd stringers. Rumors surrounding Blake Griffin’s uncertain future were nullified with a five-year $173 million dollar contract. While undeniably keeping the Clippers respectable, left a similar situation for DeAndre Jordan and his future with the team.

The CP3-Griffin-DeAndre-Doc experiment didn’t pan out as expected. The Clippers did find success with that core, finishing last year with a 51-31 record – their 5th straight 50-win season, after what felt like a lifetime of losing since their move to LA from San Diego in 1984.

But even with their rise from their doldrums, the expectations for the Clippers felt increasingly difficult to live up to. Expectations that find Doc Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer struggling to meet.

The Los Angeles Lakers have shown more growth and development this season. Playing better defense, and running an offense that has finally caught up with the rest of the league, these young Lakers now have a blueprint to work with towards finding an identity. Identity – something the Lakers have lacked for close to five years now, and something the Clippers might have lost along the way.

Becoming a common fixture in the playoffs and hopeful championship contender, the Clippers saw a wave of success never seen in the past.

Their successes included banishing their former slum-lord owner in Donald Sterling, an apparently rash-decision uniform change, and the bizarre birth of mascot Chuck the Condor, or in other words Chuck, the-other-pink-bird. Even Doc Rivers made a decision to hang up Clipper posters to cover up the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and retired jerseys in the rafters. The only thing missing was a selfie of mega-fan Clipper Darrell dressed in his blue and red suit.

Three years ago, the Lakers finished 14th in the Western Conference, with injuries plaguing the team. Those affected were then rookie, Julius Randle, breaking his leg in the 2014-15 season opener, back injuries to Steve Nash, and a 4000th injury to Kobe Bryant.

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At the same time, the Clippers, who savored their dominance over the Lakers, more than entertained the idea of being a championship contender.

The Clippers were on the brink of clinching their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history when they blew a 3-1 lead in the 2014 NBA Playoffs to the Houston Rockets. This event signified Lob City’s ultimate peak and inevitable shift in the opposite direction.

No matter how hard they strived to separate the gap between themselves and the Lakers, it felt like it was a matter of time for the Clippers to fall back down to earth, with the purple and gold unsurprisingly treading in tow.

The Clippers’ brass, which includes Doc Rivers in a General Manager role, knew their window for prosperity over the Lakers would close shut just as fast as it opened. Hence the complete culture and identity overhaul while having to deal with sharing the same playing space with one of the most revered sports organizations in the history of sports.

The Lakers’ youth and inexperience, in contrast with the Clippers’ aging, but battle-tested core might lead one to see a distinct drop off between the two teams. That’s far from actuality. The 2017-18 season is still early, but it is clear the future seems increasingly brighter for the Lakers more-so than the Clippers.

A promising future for the Lakers isn’t surprising given the organization’s penchant for excellence and a determination for minimizing down years. Coming off four straight losing seasons, the Lakers said goodbye to a living legend, while accumulating draft picks in the process, searching for an identity with each game.

Every Brandon Ingram stride to the rim, every near triple-double Lonzo Ball has, every chant of “Kuuz” that echoes at Staples Center contributes to the Clippers’ demise as the inferior L.A. team. More importantly to Lakers fans, their team’s progress slowly puts the Clippers’ bandwagon back in the shed.

About 30 games into the season, winning means something to both LA teams. The Clippers might still believe they are more than a playoff team, and having Blake Griffin and Doc still at the helm sure helps.

The Clippers still have DJ, but he’s aging, and while earning about $22 million this year, can’t purchase a free-throw. Top that with a season-ending knee injury to Patrick Beverly, and an oft-injured Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers are left with Lou Williams and Austin “as-long-as-my-dads-here” Rivers to help steer the sinking ship.

The Lakers aren’t expected to make the playoffs but flirted with the 8th seed in the season early on. For once, the season’s motivating factors aren’t focused on tanking, as each win, on paper, offers a more desirable landing spot.

More wins can be vital in luring potential free agents. The young Lakers’ core surely passes the eyeball test, but a higher number in the win column can only help their cause. Even when the Lakers do lose games, they do so in a fashion that showcases their progression, and more often than not, put themselves in positions to win.

Nights where losing by two in overtime against the Golden State Warriors, and especially on a night that saw Kobe’s jerseys being retired, do sting a bit, but the team competed and could only take positive experience from a game like that. Experience goes a long way, giving the Lakers confidence to achieve impressive wins. Confidence that helped pull off a victory against a red-hot Rockets team in Houston Wednesday night.

It is a bit premature, stating the Clippers are heading towards the NBA cellar again. The Clippers still have owned the Lakers since the 2012-13 season, winning 20 of the last 22 games, including an opening night win against the Lakers this season.

However, in the end, no amount of uniform changes will help cloud the past. No mascot distracting enough to dull the frustration of mediocrity. No, Chris Paul lob-to-Griffin to delay the inevitability that is the Clippers’ demise and the Lakers rise. Not even a spot on the Christmas Day roster, no Christmas miracle in sight.

The Clipper selfies that were posted to cover the Lakers’ wall-of-fame, now including two new jerseys, will probably have to stay up forever. The Lakers’ accolades aren’t going anywhere.

Next: 50 Greatest Players In Lakers Franchise History

Perhaps a Clipper Darrell selfie can mask the now immortalized 8 and 24.