The world as Lakers fans know it ending because their heroes apparently will need time to adjust, I thought I would check with someone who went through the same thing a year ago.
But what a difference in producing instant pizzazz, Chris Paul doing the impossible and suddenly making the Clippers relevant.
“I didn’t,” he says. “We did.”
Whatever, I’m still breathless from Wednesday night’s season opener, which offered a stirring playoff atmosphere, the Clippers rocking Memphis and Staples Center with a 101-92 victory.
What a night!
And it all starts with Paul, who accepted his assignment to play for the Clippers last season, after almost being a Laker, with a smile and a nod to Blake Griffin that anything was possible.
And almost immediately the way the Clippers had played basketball for depressing decade after decade — changed.
With Paul as the acknowledged leader, the Clippers overcame the devastating Achilles’ injury to Chauncey Billups and went on to win a Game 7 in the playoffs on the road in Memphis.
It was a gritty miracle in Memphis — unless you really do believe Paul and anything is possible.
So what happens next? Griffin signs a five-year contract extension to stay with the Clippers.
“I knew he would,” says Paul.
But what about Paul, who will be a free agent at the end of the season? Does he already know where he will be next year?
“No,” he says, and when pressed on whether he’s really telling the truth, he says he is.
Whatever it takes seems to be the Clippers’ motto so far in convincing to Paul to remain. And what’s wrong with that sentence other than that it’s never happened before?
The Clippers gave Griffin what he wanted, embraced the return of Billups, who is Paul’s role model, and assembled maybe the best bench in the conference. They promoted Gary Sacks to GM because of Paul’s fondness for him, and they will wait to determine Vinny Del Negro’s future once they know he’s the coach to get the most out of Paul.
“It’s not to make me happy,” Paul protests. “It’s to run a first-class organization here. And that’s what we’ve got right now.
“You go back to last year, and I didn’t know when I came here but I hoped for the best. But it’s unbelievable, and better than what I ever imagined.”
So what more does Paul need to know before deciding whether he will sign a long-term deal with the Clippers?
“That’s a good question,” says Paul. “I’ll see how this year goes, and so far everything has gotten off to a good start.
“But it’s not a decision that will just affect me; I’ve got a wife.”
So does she love L.A.?
“She loves L.A.,” says Paul. “And my son seems to like it.”
The media here is terrific, I remind him, and he obviously agrees. So what more does he want?
“Just to know,” he says, while agreeing one of the questions he will be asking himself might decide it all: Will the Clippers ever have what it takes to win a NBA championship?
“No” is the easy answer so far, the Lakers casting an even more imposing championship shadow in town with the hyped arrival of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.
Might that alone convince Paul to go elsewhere?
“Seriously, all that hype does nothing for me,” Paul says. “When I played on the USA side in the Olympics I was on the side where all the hype was pointing. And at the end of the day you still had to play the game.
“I think everything that happened this summer [with the Lakers] is great for L.A., great for the game, media and fans. They are unbelievably talented; their top five could be an All Star team. But you’ve got to play the games.”
And so here we are, Game 1, Lob City and Ralph Lawler writing on Clippers.com, “For the first time in my 34 seasons with the Clippers, I can honestly say that this year they can contend for the NBA Championship.”
That would mean the Clippers would be better than the Lakers. We already know this: If the Lakers had the Clippers’ bench they might be one of the great teams of all time.
But enough about the Lakers. How about the most exciting basketball team in Los Angeles?
Wowie, wow, where to start?
How about Kobe Crawford, shooting every time the ball touches his hands, the degree of difficulty increasing seemingly with every shot and leading the Clippers with 29 points.
Then there is Eric Bledsoe, who sparked the Clippers’ playoff rally against Memphis a year ago, leading a fourth-quarter charge again to vault the Clippers ahead of the Grizzlies.
Hard to imagine a better backup point guard in the game now.
Lamar Odom comes on, grabs five rebounds in eight minutes, makes a devastating block of a Tony Allen jumper in the fourth quarter and eat your heart out, Mark Cuban.
I haven’t even mentioned the starters.
DeAndre Jordan goes the length of the court for a slam, and a few minutes later Griffin is doing the same. And it’s the first quarter. So many more dunks to come.
Throw in technicals on Griffin and former Clipper Zach Randolph, and then later Randolph pulling Griffin to the floor, and no one around here is taking their time to adjust to changes.
Now it would be sacrilegious to suggest there’s a Showtime feel to the Clippers, but something has to be better than the Clippers’ marketing campaign built around the word “Represent.”
They certainly don’t represent what we remember about the Clippers. This is a deep team now with a pair of Hollywood-style leading actors in Paul and Griffin.
Lots to like, especially now that the Lakers have started flat. And Paul says the Clippers are just getting started.
But will he be here to finish the deal?