The Los Angeles Clippers were big winners on Friday when Dwight Howard announced he was signing with the Houston Rockets. How? The Clippers kicked the Los Angeles Lakers teeth in with Howard in purple and gold. So what did it matter really?
The Lakers dynasty is now officially over. Think about when the last time the Lakers really wanted a player and didn’t get him. I suppose there was Chris Paul, but that was David Stern’s doing. The Lakers have a massive collection of championship banners, Hall of Famers, retired numbers, and statues outside Staples Center for a reason. They always get their man. They wanted Wilt Chamberlain , they got him. They wanted Magic Johnson, they got him. They wanted James Worthy, they got him. They wanted Shaquille O’Neal, they got him. Then they wanted Kobe Bryant and, of course, they got him too.
Whether it was working a trade to move ahead in the draft, convincing a free agent to come to them, or whatever, the Lakers have always gotten the players they want. But that is now over. The most coveted free agent in this year’s class, a guy who had already spent a season in their uniform and stood to make an extra $30 million just to stay put, left one of the most successful franchises in sports history for the Houston Rockets. The Rockets? Houston? Really?
The Rockets have won a couple of championships back in the day. But they are not the Lakers.
So what does this have to do with the Clippers? It makes them the best team in the Los Angeles market. If there are big time free agents looking to get closer to Hollywood, the Clippers are now the more attractive destination. The Clippers are younger. They have a coach wearing a championship ring in Doc Rivers. They have one of the game’s best assist men in Paul. If Lebron James is thinking of leaving the Miami Heat after next season and of Los Angeles as a place he might like to try, then why would he choose the Lakers over the Clippers?
Also, the reason for the Lakers demise is that Jerry Buss is no more. Instead the team is run by Jim Buss, who seems determined to refuse to listen to his star players and run things his way, even if it means those star players will leave for places like Houston. Buss fired Mike Brown as head coach after only five games a season ago. That is something championship caliber franchises do not do, which is panic after one sixteenth of a season. Can you imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers firing a head coach after one opening game loss? Then, he spurned Phil Jackson even though Jackson was interested in taking the job. What possible reason could he have had for that other than wanting to distance himself from his father?
Jim Buss is trying to do the opposite of what Jerry would do. What he needs to think about is the fact that what Jerry did was win championships. But since being his own man is more important to him than winning, the Clippers will be the beneficiaries. Now all they have to do is take advantage.