Given the current status of both clubs, it appears that the Los Angeles Clippers have a leg up on the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason.
The big picture: Although the Lakers are known for their rich history, it appears that the Clippers are the better fit for free agents looking to relocate.
Welcome to the Lake Show: Whenever anyone thinks of basketball and Los Angeles, they almost instantaneously think of the Lakers. There’s good reason for that too, as since coming to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1961, the Lakers have:
- Won 11 NBA Championships and have 25 finals appearances overall.
- Have only had 13 losing seasons in 59 seasons in L.A.
- Made the playoffs 49 times.
- Been home to Hall of Fame players and coaches such as Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson.
The 2000s were a particularly successful time for the Lakers as they were able to make the finals seven times and win five, with a three-peat from 2000-2002. Also, the Lakers made the playoffs every year, with the exception of the 2005 season.
“The Return of the King”: The 2010s are perhaps the darkest time in Laker history. From 2014 to 2019, the team has been mired in its longest playoff drought to date. In the past six years, the Lakers have:
- Averaged 27 wins.
- Have gone through numerous head coaching changes and two different front office regimes.
- Many draft picks that failed in L.A. but succeeded elsewhere, notably D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
Through it all though, the Lakers were able to land LeBron James. James’s arrival was supposed to usher in a new era of Laker basketball, filled with amazing highlights, player development and most importantly, wins.
Instead, the Lakers devolved further into chaos:
- The Lakers once again missed the playoffs in 2019.
- Failed to properly develop young players (instead causing them to lose faith in the organization due to a botched Anthony Davis deal).
- Saw James miss the most games (27) in his career due to injury.
- President of Basketball Operations, Magic Johnson, quit because of lack of success and ill-timed moves.
- James is further implicated as a “coach-killer” after Luke Walton was let go at the conclusion of the 2019 season.
This has made the Lakers a laughingstock around the NBA as the moves that the Lakers brass made backfired in spectacular fashion. Additionally, it seems as if the Lakers are a rudderless ship, doing whatever they can to appease an older LeBron.
The best Clippers in L.A.: While the Lakers are struggling to get their head above water, one of the more surprising developments in recent history is the fact that the Clippers are actually good. Some might argue that the Clippers have been the better team the past six years as they have:
- Averaged 51 wins in that span.
- Made the playoffs five times (almost made the playoffs in 2018 with a record of 42-40).
- Won a division title in 2014.
Much of that success has to be attributed to head coach Doc Rivers, who has laid a foundation of stability that the organization had been lacking. Couple that with Steve Ballmer, the Clippers’ owner whose passion rivals that of Mark Cuban, and you have a recipe for success just waiting to be cooked.
Perhaps the main ingredient in the recipe is the stability of the front office. After being somewhat in disarray earlier in the 2010s, the Clippers hired Jerry West as a special consultant in 2017. With West on board, the Clippers were able to get young and productive players that can help expedite the team’s quasi-rebuilding process.
All the ingredients for success are slowly cooking as the Clippers’ young core of talent was able to push the defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games, two more games than what anyone predicted.
Money talks: One important aspect when thinking about free agents is money. Regardless of what any athlete says, money is one of the top reasons why athletes either choose to stay on their current team or leave for greener pastures.
In that sense, the Clippers have a lot of money to spend, second only to the New York Knicks. As it stands, the Clippers have about $60 million in cap space, enough for two max contracts. So it’s entirely possible for the Clippers to sign marquee free agents Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving in free agency.
Meanwhile, the Lakers have about $42 million to spend. That leaves the Lakers with enough for one max contract and one mid-level contract. Although that is still a lot of money to work with and the prospect of playing with James is interesting, that is not enough for the Lakers to feasibly entice a max contract-type to take a discount.
The bottom line: With all that in mind, the Clippers are the more attractive free agent destination. The Clippers’ relative youth, stability, recent success and championship pedigree in Rivers along with available cap space make the Clippers a very alluring destination.
Although the Lakers may have arguably the best player in the world, the extreme dysfunction that they are currently saddled with makes it hard for any player to ride into the Lake Show. Unless the Lakers are able to figure out their problems, the Clippers are the best show in L.A.