It’s easy to recognize the commencement of an era with a defining moment. And while that point in time might not be determined until it is possible to look back and reflect, I can safely say that the Lakers’ double-digit loss to the Clippers was not that moment. Sorry to burst the enormous bubble of all the Clippers fans, who have substituted their daily pornography intake for the gargantuan posters of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan currently wallpapering the Hotel Figueroa Hotel next to Staples Center, but the Lakers will always be the alpha dogs of Los Angeles.
It will certainly take centuries for the Clippers to even start thinking about catching up to the Lakers; and it would require the relocation of the purple and gold for the Clippers to be handed the metaphorical baton of power over SoCal sports. However, that is not what is at stake for the Lakers right now.
Rather, what is available for the taking is answer to the question, “Who is the best team in Los Angeles right now?” And if you’re the manager, coach or fan of a team that isn’t in the midst of rebuilding, you better be doing everything in your power to ensure that your team is the answer to that question. But unlike the last 30-some years, finding that answer isn’t as easy as “two plus two.” Sometime between Blake Griffin’s arrival and the start of the 2011 “off-season,” Clippers owner Donald Sterling woke up and realized that he no longer had the keys to a Ford Flex, but rather, a Bentley. Now, instead of putting all of his time and focus into not losing money, he is doing whatever he can to put a championship team on the court – something very few managements actually do these days.
But the issue for the Lakers isn’t that the Clippers are suddenly breathing down their necks. For the first time in nearly four years, it’s their lack of personnel. Since the Lakers’ then-deemed heist of Pau Gasol in February of 2008, they have had a team primed for championship contention. However, with each passing game, their roster appears to be regressing to a state in which Kobe Bryant is reverting to his old ways of taking 23-plus shots a night, and the Lakers are slipping from the top of the Western Conference.
The criticism towards Bryant’s recent string of 40-point outbursts comes without validation. His recent shot-selection isn’t what’s putting the Lakers out of games, it’s what’s keeping them in them.
So, why has Bryant seen an increase in shot attempts if Pau Gasol and an extremely improved Andrew Bynum remain on the roster? Surely it’s not due to the aging or injuries of the Lakers’ big men – Bynum is in the best physical shape of his career and Gasol is just finishing the peak of his career. Bryant, on the other hand, is 33 years-old, has 16 years on his NBA odometer and is playing with a mangled wrist, surgically repaired knees and only seven or eight fingers that will actually have any use to him once he retires. And it’s not because Kobe has decided to revert to his 2005-07 ways or lost all trust in his teammates, while attempting to catch Kareem’s scoring record. No, he’s taking all of these shots and scoring a ton of points because if he doesn’t, the Lakers are going to start losing.
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