Clip on their shoulder: Clippers want out of Lakers shadow

The Los Angeles Clippers have been respectable for quite some time, repeatedly attempting to take steps to separate themselves from the big brothers in the same building and same city.

But now, they’re taking the biggest steps of all, extricating themselves from second-class citizen status at Arena and plotting on new land in Inglewood — a very short distance from the Lakers’ original arena during their Showtime days.

It’s probably best they get away from the Lakers, as far away as they can if Wednesday night was any indication. Far away from Arena, far away from L.A. Live, far away from all those statues and far, far away from LeBron James.

For the second time this season, the Lakers have played in the Clippers’ faces, coming back from a 21-point deficit and coming away with a 116-112 win. In an earlier meeting, the Lakers emerged victorious after a 19-point comeback.

For their last time sharing a building — unless a playoff meeting finally comes to fruition — James sent the Clippers home with a big fat “L,” even though the Clippers have a sizable lead in the real standings.

It can be viewed as symbolic, if one so chooses to put on those tinted glasses. On one hand, the Clippers can’t escape the Lakers — Lakers of old, Lakers of new, being in the same area as the Fabulous Forum.

Or it’s fitting in the way that they’re ignoring the past to chart a new and bright future, given the Clippers’ new logo is something like a ship going north — like an upward trajectory.

Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonardl, right, shoots and misses as Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James defends with seconds left in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers came up short against LeBron James and the Lakers in their last meeting sharing a building. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

But honestly, there isn’t much land in Los Angeles that’s ready for something so ambitious as the soon-to-open Intuit Dome, so if it so happens to be near the Forum and luckily on the other side of So-Fi Stadium, it’s all the more better.

For the Clippers, it’s been a decade of being a bankable franchise, escaping the reign of the disgraced Donald Sterling and shuffling in stars and star coaches, with varying degrees of expectations. Yes, there’s been more unfulfilled expectations and promise than promises delivered, and even if they’ve largely dominated the Lakers in the past decade, the Lakers have still squeezed out a championship while the Clippers are still hoping for their first sniff of June basketball. But it could very well come this year, as they’ve had moments atop the West and aren’t far from it now. There are considerable obstacles in their way, but at least for now, they’re closer than the Lakers.

It didn’t look like it Wednesday night, and James, who outscored the Clippers 19-16 in the fourth quarter, can still be the best player on the floor on a given night even if he can’t reach those heights every night.

Zooming out, though, the Clippers are more stable — if one can believe that.

Whether the threat of Kawhi Leonard going to the Lakers in the summer of 2019 was real or not, it forced the Clippers’ hand in doing everything they could. Not just to bring Leonard back home to the L.A. area, but to also keep him from the Lakers.

That could’ve been a Mike Tyson-Glass Joe punchout, but instead it was a step in having so many L.A.-area Hall of Fame players being in their uniform, culminating in trading for James Harden. Harden could very well be the missing piece to make all these misfits come together for the misfit franchise looking for its own piece of turf in the short and long term.

The Clippers’ coach, Ty Lue, was someone the Lakers couldn’t come to contract terms with a few years before. The Clippers took advantage, not only by having deeper pockets with Steve Ballmer as owner, but having a front office many feel is top notch.

The Lakers are almost at James’ mercy, wondering about his happiness, his free agency, his future and current wants — all while he’s 39 and not getting younger, Wednesday notwithstanding.

After one dries from the dripping emotion of the comeback, it’s worth noting the Lakers are in ninth place in the West, three teams and three games away from making it out of the play-in tournament.

With that, there always seems to be some level of indecision with the Lakers even through the successes, while the Clippers appear more unified and parallel in their direction even if they don’t have the jewelry to back it up.

Even removing the futility since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, taking 20 years to win a playoff series, it just takes so long for a fanbase to connect with a franchise. And to the Clippers’ credit, they’re not getting any of the Laker lifers to change allegiances.

So they’re aiming for the kids, the undecided voters, so to speak. Refurbishing playgrounds around the city, emphasizing they’re not the Hollywood team but the real L.A. team — albeit with their own style — could pay dividends down the line when those kids become season-ticket holders.

That fruit might not come to fruition for another 10 years, when those kids only remember the Clippers as mainstays, as contenders and, possibly, as champions if they’re lucky enough.

Right now, the Clippers seem to matter more outside Los Angeles than inside, but they’re aiming for a greater stake in market share in both ways.

The Lakers cast the biggest shadow in basketball. Perhaps next to the Dallas Cowboys and maybe New York Yankees, their brand evokes the most images from fans.

The pageantry, the names, the controversy and the wins.

Magic’s smile. Shaq’s force, Kobe’s will and, now, the LeBron James machine.

There’s a reason there was an HBO series about them 40 years ago that sent off legions of fans when it was canceled and is sure to become a cult favorite.

That’s what the Clippers are going against — as if those players are actually in the flesh, on the floor, every night.

They’re not, but what the Lakers have established won’t disappear overnight. At some point, James will retire and although he’s not as tied to the Lakers as Magic, Kobe or even the nomadic O’Neal, he’ll be etched into Laker lore, part of the family.

James will have a home to come to, but the Clippers are just starting to build their own.