The Lakers-Clippers Dec. 22 opener has the unmistakable ring of the previous


LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 08: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clipper and LeBron James.
Kawhi Leonard, left, could not assist the Clippers exorcise their playoff demons whereas LeBron James helped the Lakers win the franchise’s seventeenth title final season. (Harry How / Getty Photographs)

Had a enjoyable dialog with Lakers ahead Jared Dudley on my radio present the opposite day. The remark that stood out probably the most was one the all the time entertaining journeyman provided about the Dec. 22 season opener in opposition to the Clippers.

“It is good that they get the entrance row for the ring ceremony,” he mentioned of the Clippers.

Shade so completely executed, Sunbrella ought to make him a pitchman.

The summer time of ’19 signing of Kawhi Leonard and commerce for Paul George, the “L.A. Our Manner” billboards, the fixed Clippers championship discuss on nationwide TV and infrequently in these pages . . . and to what finish? A postseason that went no deeper than the place Vinny Del Negro took them. Dudley mentioned that whereas teammates laughed after the Clippers’ Sport 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets in September, the Lakers stay respectful of the Clippers’ expertise, if not their historical past.

The query is how a lot do the Clippers respect themselves? Not as people or athletes— shedding a sequence doesn’t influence any of that— however as Clippers. Leonard and George are from Southern California and steeped within the area’s basketball tradition. They grew up listening to the identical jokes in regards to the franchise’s futility as the remainder of us. They know the historical past, they know that in the 1998 draft that included Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce, the Clippers made Michael Olowokandi the No. 1 decide.

Above all, they know that their acquisitions had been greater than a yr within the making, an obsessive quest by a entrance workplace that additionally had heard one too many Benoit Benjamin jokes.

They know they maintain the playing cards.

So yeah, Leonard, George and firm know they’re gifted, however are they proud? Not of the names on the again of the uniform, however of the brand on its entrance?

As a lot as I really like the whirlwind of free company, as a lot as I champion the participant empowerment it has created, I additionally love the narrative of “the franchise,” which continues to decrease as mercenaries overrun loyalists and power followers to decide on between rooting for gamers and rooting for laundry. Gamers comparable to LeBron James, Leonard and George as of late belong much less to a fan base or franchise than to, say, Twitter, Instagram, their private manufacturers.

James’ roots are Midwestern and he had causes past basketball for coming to L.A., however his identification is unmistakably purple and gold. Leonard and George may be capable of commute from their hometowns — which has created its personal set of complications — however are they actually dwelling?

After they search for on the rafters from the ground of Staples Middle on Dec. 22, Leonard and George will absorb the identical view that has been a decades-long gross sales pitch for the Lakers’ entrance workplace: NBA championship banners, all belonging to the Lakers.

After they forged their glances in entrance of them, they may see one other group’s ring ceremony.

“I believe it is good that they get the entrance row for the ring ceremony.”

Lakers Jared Dudley, on the Clippers-Lakers Dec. 22 opener

These Clippers should not the Donald Sterling dumpster fireplace of the Eighties and ’90s. From proprietor Steve Ballmer to new coach Tyronn Lue to President Lawrence Frank and marketing consultant Jerry West — the workers is as sensible and competent as any within the NBA. The assembled expertise is championship-level, if flawed. However does that roster care if it wins a title particularly for the Clippers?

If these gamers do, that front-row seat for the Lakers ring ceremony can be greater than awkward for them. Will probably be painful. It would harm — like your ex-wife’s marriage ceremony invitation arriving in your birthday form of harm. That’s the response I hope to see.

I’m simply undecided if we’ll. Let’s begin with George’s feedback on the “All of the Smoke” podcast this week by which he went heavy on Doc Rivers’ function within the Clippers’ postseason self-immolation and light-weight on consciousness of his personal failures. Exhausting to study out of your errors should you don’t suppose you made any.

Talking of errors, the ring ceremony will allow Leonard and George — two gamers the Lakers wished — to second-guess their previous selections and rethink their futures. Each have the choice of changing into free brokers on the finish of this season. The clock is ticking, half of their assured time within the Southland already having expired with out a title. If the season ends in disappointment once more, will they be tempted to search for greener pastures, nevertheless a lot George protested in any other case Friday?

James has worn three uniforms within the final decade — he is no Michael or Magic in that sense — however all over the place he has gone, he was the greener pasture, and he knew it.

The 2020-21 season, its schedule formally unveiled Friday, begins with the Lakers getting the rings the Clippers thought they had been getting after they pulled off the seminal acquisitions of the 2019 offseason. Will it finish with payback for the embarrassment of final season?

Or will it finish with two employed weapons shrugging off one other early exit and coming into free company realizing the shedding belongs to the Clippers — and never them?

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.



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