Kyle Kuzma of Los Angeles Lakers defended by Amir Coffey of LA Clippers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex

If you look through the history of the franchises of basketball that come out of LA, there is no competition. The legacy of the Lakers far exceeds anything that the Clippers could hope to achieve in the next 50 years. However, the beginning of greatness has to start somewhere, and we may be witnessing the starting point of the Clippers rise to dominance. Or, are we? Here is the central question at the heart of our comparison of the Lakers and the Clippers. Do we finally have a rivalry that is worth some debate? Let’s see.

The Kawhi Leonard effect

When Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors and joined the Clippers there was an undoubted ripple through the world of the NBA. Surely not! Surely, the Finals MVP would take his talent to the Lakers. Everyone understood that Leonard was a Southern Californian native and that he might want to make the move to LA. However, no one could have predicted that the best defender of all time, as some people assess his talent, would go to the Clippers.

As soon as the improbable move was announced, people began to salivate over the possibility of a genuine Western Conference rivalry. This is certainly something that the NBA needed and it is fair to say that the Clippers versus Lakers rivalry now is seriously going to be a massive draw for the media and fans alike.

Leonard versus James

LeBron James of Los Angeles Lakers against Kawhi Leonard of LA Clippers at Staples Center March 2020

Of course, many people are loving the idea of the rivalry because even the Lakers franchise has horribly underperformed in recent years – with a severe drought in championship form. Therefore, there has been little excitement coming out of LA. The thought of a local rivalry could spur the Lakers to perform more to their potential than they have in recent years.

However, as is typical in sports, it is less the head to head between franchises that interest the fans and more the chance for a juicy man-on-man comparison. Had Leonard gone to the Lakers as rumoured, then there wouldn’t be half the excitement. We all know that the real excitement comes from the comparison between LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, by going to the Clippers, has directly challenged the superstar James to a showdown on who has the most star power. 

The real question isn’t who will win the face-offs between the Clippers and the Lakers. The question that needs an answer now is who is the best player in Los Angeles. 

And while we like to think it is a direct shoot-off between James and Leonard, we cannot ignore the influence of Anthony Davis. Davis has come to LA with something to prove and he has definitely shown himself to be an influential player from center. While he might not be in the running for  MVP, though neither is Leonard, both men are probably better team players throughout the season than James. 

The battle of the coaches

When you are coaching LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the only real advice you could give Frank Vogel is “don’t mess this up!”. He has to get this Lakers team to a championship title or forever be seen as someone who failed in his post. On the other hand, Doc Rivers hasn’t got the Clippers past the first round in a while and he can only be seen to improve with the influence of star players. 

However, the front office staff will also have their say. Jeannie Buss will be looking for a quiet time after all the mishaps with Magic Johnson. The franchise is also still reeling from the loss of Kobe Bryant in the helicopter crash, so she will be pushing for a positive ending to this story and a fitting tribute. 

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and president Lawrence Frank seem to have gone all-in by luring Leonard from Toronto. It is an ambitious move for a franchise that has been bumbling along in mediocrity for a long while. The fact that people are now seeking the rivalry with their cohabitors of the Staple Center goes to prove the ambition they have demonstrated. 

The Clippers also care way too much about being said to be better than the Lakers. In true underdog style, they have a complex about their history and their size – and they want to prove the point that they can compete against the giants that are their neighbors. Does it smell a bit like desperation – yes – but that is what it takes in big-name sport.

Why is it so exciting?

R Smith and Dwight Howard of Los Angeles Lakers against LA Clippers at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex

You might be thinking: so what? Who cares that the Clippers have shown such intent by taking on a star of the quality of Leonard. Well, then what is the drama? The drama in Los Angeles will now be off the chart and the media pundits are already anticipating the ups and downs of the soap opera between the teams. There is already chatter about a Games of Thrones style showdown between King James and the pretender to the throne Leonard.

We are also talking about two teams in Los Angeles. Everyone knows that Tinseltown loves a bit of high-intensity emotional conflict, and the publicists are probably salivating over the possibilities. 

So, yeah, all this was triggered by one surprise news by one talented player – but we are all hungry to see a rivalry in the NBA to reignite some off the court excitement. It seems we have our show – now it is time for all the actors to play their part.