- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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It's the second meeting between the teams in the space of three days. It's their final meeting of the season. It's Lakers vs. Clippers, and the bet here remains the same as it's been for months: Kobe Bryant will be playing for one of these two teams next season.
Sadly for the Clippers, it's not Winner Gets Kobe Night at Staples Center.
Nope. Outlandish as it sounds, the Clips are going to have to out-recruit the Lakers to make what would rank as the most revolutionary free-agent signing in NBA history. They have to hope and pray that the things they can offer Kobe are enough to make him leave one of the two most storied franchises in NBA history.
What can the Clippers possibly offer?
We've covered most of these before, but here's a quick review: Kobe is pals with Corey Maggette, with whom he shares an agent (Rob Pelinka). Kobe is fond of coach Mike Dunleavy, who played with Kobe's father in Philadelphia. Signing with the Clippers, furthermore, is the most drastic on-court change Kobe could possibly make -- away from Shaquille O'Neal and Phil Jackson to a team of his very own -- without disrupting his personal life. He wouldn't have to move his family if he stays in L.A. after being acquitted this summer, and I've yet to meet anyone who could convince me that Kobe is willing to relocate to Atlanta or Phoenix or (yeah, right) Denver.
Which brings us to the factor we haven't discussed before.
The Clippers have a six-year lease at Staples Center. This is Year 5 of that lease. When the lease expires, they will inevitably re-entertain the idea of moving the franchise to Anaheim. Which sits a short motorcycle spin away from Kobe's home in Newport Beach.
For now, look past the fact that NBA players should never, ever ride motorcycles after what happened to Chicago's Jay Williams. The Lakers don't stop Kobe from riding his -- he hogged home after Tuesday's practice -- and surely you haven't forgotten how Kobe traveled by Ducati to and from The Pond in Anaheim for a Lakers-Clippers exhibition ... instead of riding the team bus.
It's true that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has always resisted the Anaheim option, as much sense as it makes for his team finally establishing its own identity, because he's an L.A. guy who wants to be able to hobnob at games with his L.A. friends. Kobe, meanwhile, might not want to play in O.C. full-time (only Fox calls it "The O.C.," incidentally) no matter how short the commute is, because it's simply not L.A. There's something undeniably special about playing in the big city.
Then again, perhaps he'll like the idea. The Clips have been more successful than anticipated at Staples, but they will surely consider Anaheim again, if only because they need to consider it should negotiations on a Staples extension don't proceed as they like.
At the very least, when Kobe and the Clippers start talking this summer, figure on the Anaheim element coming up in discussions.
Yet it's been almost a month since either one of these guys had a 20-point, 20-rebound game. What's wrong, fellas?
More from Wolves and Spurs
What's really wrong with Minnesota?
Fingers will inevitably point at the injury returns of Wally Szczerbiak and Troy Hudson, but scouts who have watched the Wolves closely insist that their recent 3-6 struggles have centered around the integration of center Michael Olowokandi.
The Wolves know, to have any hope of dealing with the Spurs/Kings/Lakers in the playoffs, they have to have a contribution from Olowokandi on defense and on the boards. If it has to rely solely on Garnett as its interior presence, Minny is not going to be a title contender.
Working Kandi in, though, hasn't been easy. The Wolves' offense is fast-moving and built on good passing, neither a Kandi strength. Rasho Nesterovic, with his ability to shoot from the outside, found it easier to fit in, as evidenced by Minny's 12-12 record when Kandi starts. The Wolves are 34-10 when he doesn't. Yet the Wolves concede that they have to try to get Kandi acclimated now, with less than a month to go before the playoffs, no matter how well they were playing without him.
The Spurs, mind you, can't claim to be rolling yet either. What little has been divulged about Duncan's knee trouble sounds more than a bit reminiscent of Vince Carter's recurring knee issues, which is why San Antonio is understandably freaked. If Duncan's out in the playoffs, it's safe to say the Wolves would beat them in a series no matter how Olowokandi's playing.
NBA referees, as yet, have not been punished for turning their shirts inside-out in support of fellow referee Michael Henderson, who is back at work now after being pulled from three assignments following a blown call that helped the Lakers to a one-point win over Denver on Feb. 25. Twenty-eight of the 30 refs on duty Feb. 27 staged the protest and they're still expecting some sort of penalty at season's end, after several were threatened with termination by the league if they participated in the protest. The league office couldn't make good on that threat when half of its referee workforce participated. ... Kudos to under-fire Mavericks forward Antoine Walker. After his ill-advised complaints about playing time, raising the volume on suggestions that Dallas will be moving him as soon as this summer, Walker continues to co-host his weekly radio show with Dave Shore and take calls from less-than-understanding fans. ... There's at least one party in New Orleans who isn't pushing to trade Jamal Mashburn and make the Hornets exclusively Baron Davis' team. "Mash brings a lot of versatility to the game," said Hornets vet P.J. Brown. "He makes us a better team. Right now we need to use all of our tools, because it's not going to be one guy that's going to get us there." Mashburn, of course, is out again with knee trouble, but New Orleans' uneven play this season has given rise to the theory we threw out back in November about the Hornets actually playing better when Baron or Mash is injured because both dominate the ball so much and because both have such different styles. ... I would be remiss in my duties as a keeper of the Buffalo Braves' legacy if I didn't remind you that Bob McAdoo still holds the St. Patrick's Day record with 52 points against Seattle on that holiday in 1976. Have to admit, though, that I was pretty nervous as a courtside observer in Dallas on Wednesday night when Atlanta's Stephen Jackson rung up 31 points in the first half. ... Other notable St. Patrick's Day performances: Kareem Abdul Jabbar's 50 points for Milwaukee (against the Lakers) in 1972, and Larry Bird's 48 for the Celtics (appropriately) against Houston in 1985. McAdoo and Kareem's teams lost those games, though. ... You can go ahead and try, but it'll take some doing to convince me that there's another team out there besides the Lakers or Clippers that has a shot at signing Kobe this summer. Those are the only two options if we're talking about an outright free-agent signing. The only other option is Bryant picking a team he'd like to join via sign-and-trade, but that would require A) the Lakers agreeing to play along and B) the team in question having something good to send back to the Lakers. I suppose the big-city Knicks could entice Bryant, but what do the Knicks have that the Lakers would want? Allan Houston and Kurt Thomas? On the premise that the Lakers would only be willing to trade Bryant to the East, and only if they see zero hope in re-signing him, I'd give Miami or Chicago a better shot than New York, since those teams potentially hold some appeal for Kobe and have some talented kids to offer in return. ... Of course, at the end of the day, Kobe can make more money with the Lakers than he can make anywhere else. Can't forget that, either.
A move to Anaheim could make the Clippers more appealing to free-agent-to-be Kobe Bryant.