LA franchises latch onto the league’s most desirable free agents and set themselves on a collision course.
By Jerry Ough, Staff Writer
Much has been said of the two Los Angeles NBA teams and the off-season free agent acquisitions that turned their fortunes around and transformed themselves into championship contenders.
The Lakers and Clippers now have superstar duos that any team would give their eye teeth to build around, along with solid all-star caliber players that add potent fuel to their competitive fires.
The Clippers picked up a terrific tandem in NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and perennial all-star Paul George who should perfectly compliment an overachieving group of athletes that managed to hold on to the final playoff spot before being dutifully dispensed in the first round. The Clippers’ prospects at the beginning of last season were so dim that their inglorious playoff exit was actually considered an admirable achievement considering the unknown and unproven cast of Clipper characters on the court at any given time.
Acquiring two of the most highly coveted free agents in Leonard and George was a wish come true for Clippers fans and one of the best possible off season outcomes for the Clippers front office. And the preseason prospect this year vaults this squad from barely making the playoffs last time to conference championship contenders next time. But giving up some of their most promising and productive players over the past season and off season has left the Clippers with the sensational scoring machine Lou Williams as the only proven player coming off the bench.
The Lakers have seemingly turned their fortunes around in dramatic fashion. After picking up no less than LeBron James last season and then suffering through one of the most disappointing campaigns in recent memory, the Purple and Gold came roaring out of the summer gate as championship contenders with power forward Anthony Davis, the only player who could compare with the likes of free agents Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. Davis and James are a dynamic duo of epic proportions as well as two of the most versatile athletes in the NBA.
The Lakers also managed to hold on to Kyle Kuzma, one of the franchise’s most surprising, gifted and celebrated young players. They have two veteran 3-point shooters in Jared Dudley and Danny Green, a couple of veteran point guards in Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo in addition to returning centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard. Mr. Howard didn’t exactly build a devoted L.A. fan base the last time he was here, but he is a formidable defensive force in the paint who can distribute the ball and score if needed. Most importantly, Howard is the center that Davis reportedly wanted and therefore is worth his weight in gold if he simply fulfills the duties of a journeyman big man.
The trash talking and bragging rights have already begun from Lakers and Clippers fans. But keep in mind that, win or lose, Los Angeles will have the most exciting and hotly contested cross-town rivalry in sports and arguably the top rivalry in the NBA this season. NBA fans in L.A. can count their blessings and celebrate the fact that they will see some sensational basketball and some epic sports battles from the Lakers and Clippers at Staples Center and on TV this year.