You know what feels like another lifetime ago? When Paul George wanted/was rumored to be a Laker. Remember that shit? Think of how much has happened since 2017-18. His tenure as a Pacer was coming to an end, Magic was recruiting him, but unfortunately the Lakers never pulled the trigger. After landing in OKC, Paul straight up talked about how bad he wanted to be a Laker
"I 100 percent appreciate Laker Nation for wanting me to come back home," George said during the ESPN series following him during free agency (h/t Warriors Outsiders' Drew Shiller). "I wanted to come here a year ago, prior to going to OKC. And unfortunately wasn't traded to the Lakers—Lakers didn't grab me."
Instead, we got the Westbrook/PG13 era in OKC, and George had two of the best seasons of his career. He played 79 and 77 games, averaged 25/6.9/3.9 and found himself in the MVP hunt. As we know, after Year 2 of that experiment the Thunder traded Westbrook for Chris Paul, Kawhi made his way West and had one demand for the Clippers.
Bring him Paul George.
So, Steve Ballmer said fuck it, he traded a young point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a bunch of picks, and suddenly the Clippers became a power out West as long as they stayed healthy. Maybe more importantly, they instantly owned the in city rivalry against the Lakers. During this Kawhi/George era as Clippers, they are an impressive 12-2 against the Lakers, including being 2-0 this season. In fact, the Lakers haven't won a game in this matchup since their 2 point win during the weird 2020 season (the game took place in July).
Of course, the Lakers did technically win a title during this timeframe if you want to count what happened in the bubble, but of course had the Clippers not choked during that run, who knows what happens.
Now a few years later, George opened up about his LAC tenure in a big piece in GQ, and there's one quote that I'm sure has Lakers fans all bent out of shape, but it's the truth
Look, everyone knows about the Playoff P jokes. You can't talk about the career of Paul George and ignore it. Since the 2016-17 season, George has played in 47 playoff games. He's shot just 42/34% over that span. In his first showing as a Clipper, it was a brtual 39/33% in their 13 games. It's hard to ignore his role in the Clippers collapse that year, capped off by his 4-16 (2-11) performance in Game 7 vs DEN. In Year 2, it was 44/33%. A brutal Game 4 at home against the Suns (5-20, 2-9) and then another one in Game 5 at home (6-15, 1-6). As a result, Playoff P jokes were born.
But make no mistake, everything George said in that quote is true. The Clippers are one of the few franchises to never win an NBA title, joining the Pelicans, Nets, Nuggets, Suns, Jazz, Hornets, Timberwolves, and Grizzlies. For basically my entire life, outside of the Lob City era, the Clippers were a joke. If George (and Kawhi) somehow pull it off and win a title as Clippers, it will be 10000000000000x a bigger deal than just another Lakers title. I feel like that's a no brainer. If you're finally able to break through that Clippers curse, that's a pretty big deal.
So the question no becomes, is this even possible? This is what makes the stretch run in the West so exciting. The Suns loaded up, the Nuggets still employ Nikola Jokic and might be the best team in the conference, the Mavs made a win now move, the Grizzlies aren't going anywhere, and shit if the Warriors get healthy at the right time you obviously can't write them off. Why George and Clippers fans should be a little hopeful though is one huge factor.
Kawhi looks healthy.
It may not seem like it, but since 12/5, Kawhi has been in the lineup pretty consistently. He's played in 28 of the possible 36 games, putting up 24.5/6.5/4.1/1.5 on 51/42% splits. As we know, Playoff Kawhi can carry a team to a title as long as he's on the floor. We've seen it. It's been one of the most frustrating things about his Clippers tenure, we've only seen 24 playoff games from Kawhi since he arrived.
George has been back in the lineup pretty consistently since 1/17, and his averages are just as solid at 21.9/6.4/5.5 on 48/37% splits. The Clippers as a team are 18-9 when both play this season. In 2021, it was 32-11. In 2020, it was 27-10. The point is, as long as these two are on the floor, the Clippers should be taken seriously.
The sad part is, even if the Clippers DO actually win the title, nobody in LA is going to give a shit outside of Steve Ballmer and friends. Has it mattered at all that the Clippers have owned the head to head matchup since Kawhi and George got there? Hell no. LA is still a Lakers town and will always be a Lakers town. The same way it never mattered what the Nets did in terms of building a super team, NYC is always and will always be a Knicks city.
I'm not even sure if the Clippers somehow eliminate the Lakers in a run to a title it's going to matter. I think we all want to see LeBron vs Kawhi, but I don't see a title doing all that much to getting the Clippers out of the Lakers shadow.
To be the first team in franchise history to win a title? That's definitely a huge deal though. Much bigger than adding another title to the Lakers total. That's how it was with the Raptors, that's why it was such a huge Finals for the Suns a few years ago, the first one will always be a bigger deal than whatever total you think the Lakers should be at (hint: it's not 17).
All I know is I'm just praying for health. For the Clippers, for everyone. Shit has never been more wide open than it is right now, teams have all loaded up for the stretch run, and the only thing that can get in the way of basketball nirvana is injuries. Just give me 3.5 months of injury free games. Please, that's all I ask.