The biggest rivalry in the NBA this season will be none other than the one between crosstown rivals, the Lakers and the Clippers. They’re the two biggest betting favorites to win the championship for the 2019-20 season and no team had bigger offseasons than the Lakers and the Clippers. While the Purple and Gold added Anthony Davis to the equation with LeBron James, the “other” Los Angeles squad beefed up their playoff roster with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
However, there can be only one team that hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy and ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith doesn’t believe the Lakers will be that team.
Who is standing in their way?
Follow the Heavy on Lakers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content!
ESPN Analysts Agree That Clippers Are Better Than Lakers
None other than the Clippers, who are the Lakers’ biggest kryptonite entering the 2019-20 season, according to Smith. The First Take host cited the reason why — naming the Clippers’ trio of defensive wings in Leonard, George and Patrick Beverley as a big reason why, along with the recent addition of former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, who coached LeBron for three seasons in Cleveland.
“The biggest issue is not the coaching, the biggest issue is the Clippers,” Smith said. “It’s not just that they [Clippers] have the coaching, they have a more complete roster and they have better defenders. When you look at the combination of Kawhi, Paul George and Patrick Beverley, you got three elite defenders in your starting lineup with an exceptional coach who’s high with his motivational skills. And then he adds the coach that coached LeBron for 3-plus years, so you gotta take that into consideration as well.”
This take definitely makes sense. Leonard is widely regarded as the best perimeter defender in the league and he is the reigning Finals MVP. He carried a Toronto Raptors squad that couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs to a decisive NBA Finals series victory over the Golden State Warriors — the most dominant franchise in recent NBA history.
George is coming off of the finest season of his nine-year NBA career, finishing as the runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting. He also led the league in steals per game at 2.2 and ranked 15th in overall defensive rating among all players.
To top things off, despite his diminutive stature at 6-foot-1, Beverley is well-respected around the league and has been regarded as one of the best defenders in the league for a number of years. The 31-year-old is a two-time All-Defensive Team selection and is well-renowned for always guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Keep in mind that he held Kevin Durant — a full foot taller than Beverley — to just eight shots on 21 points while forcing him into committing nine turnovers in a Game 2 playoff victory. The Clippers overcame a 31-point deficit in the second half to defeat the defending champs.
In other words, yes, it’s true — the Lakers are going to have their hands full against a squad that will likely be the best defensive team in the NBA.
Kellerman: Lakers’ Coaching Structure Will Be Downfall
Smith’s statement came in response to co-host Max Kellerman’s own take on the Lakers’ weakness. Kellerman didn’t cite their roster personnel as a problem in comparison to the Clippers’ own roster. He stated that the coaching was the culprit, especially when considering Los Angeles had favored Lue and Jason Kidd to be their head coach, only for Lue to eventually join the Clippers as an assistant coach and for Kidd to oddly join the Lakers as an assistant.
Frank Vogel would eventually be hired as Lakers head coach after contract talks broke down with Lue, allegedly due to the fact that the organization wanted to decide which coaching assistants would surround the former championship-winning coach.
Kellerman doubled down on that take after Smith cited the Clippers as the Lakers’ biggest weakness. He also agreed with Smith that the Lakers won’t win a championship in 2020.
“The point is the coaching as a reflection of the health of the organization and the clarity and the chain of command-type stuff, the Clippers have it and the Hall-of-Fame coach. The Lakers don’t. This kind of weird plan where Vogel is going to coach them to a certain point and then maybe Jason Kidd. Vogel gives them cover to get the real guy they want in there. But they didn’t think they could put Kidd right in there, right away. That’s a mess. You had a clean way to give LeBron his coach. And you should have done it and you blew it. And I believe, not in the long run, they will win a championship. But not this year.”
Clearly, ESPN’s top analysts don’t believe the Lakers have what it takes to win a championship over their crosstown rivals this season.
What do you think, Lakers nation?
Follow D.J. Siddiqi on Twitter @DJSiddiqi