Punch line to contender: Clippers are finally relevant

A race to relevance that spanned three cities and took close to 42 years finally crossed the finish line earlier this week when the Clippers acquired star point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets.

LA's "other" franchise began its NBA odyssey in Western New York back in 1970 as one of three expansion teams for the '70-71 season. The Buffalo Braves played their home games at the old Memorial Auditorium (The Aud) and even snuck across the border now and again for a few games at the famed Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

The team's first head coach was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and its initial "star" players were forgettable names like Bob Kauffman and Don May until the greatest Brave of them all laced them up -- Bob McAdoo. A scoring machine, McAdoo led the Braves to their first playoff appearance in 1973-74 when he averaged 30.6 points per game and 15.1 rebounds. By '74-75 he was league MVP.

But McAdoo's brilliance couldn't generate enough fan interest in Buffalo and the franchise found its way to San Diego in 1978-79 when John Brown, the franchise's owner, and Irv Levin, a Southern California native who owned the Celtics, negotiated a deal in which the owners would swap franchises, with Brown taking control of the Celtics and Levin getting the Braves with the intent of moving West.

By the '81-82 campaign Levin tapped out and sold the franchise to Los Angeles- area real estate mogul Donald Sterling, who eventually moved the team to Hollywood in 1984.

Over their tortured existence the Clippers franchise has had a total of just six winning seasons. In their 27 seasons in Los Angeles, the Clips have reached the postseason just four times and have won fewer than 20 games on six occasions. Under Sterling's often puzzling stewardship, the club has been regarded as one of the yardsticks for futility, not just in the NBA but for all of professional sports.

And it certainly doesn't help that they share the same building with the Lakers -- one of the most successful sports franchises in history.

The worm began to turn, however, on May 19, 2009 when the Clippers won the Draft Lottery and were awarded the first overall pick, what turned out to be Blake Griffin.

Although they had to wait a year for Griffin, who broke his kneecap during the team's final preseason game in what should have been his rookie year, the Clippers finally found a foundation to build upon. Not only was Blake a star on the court -- he had the type of personality to transcend the game, garnering endorsement deals with heavyweights like Kia, Subway and AT&T.

That said, Griffin needed someone to play Robin to his Batman and that finally arrived on Wednesday when the Paul soap opera came to a conclusion.

The 26-year-old CP3, a four-time All-Star and one of the two or three best point guards in the game, had requested a trade soon after the five-month lockout came to an end. In fact, the league had already nixed high-profile deals put together by both the Lakers and Clippers before finally accepting Wednesday's offer which sent promising guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman and second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu along with Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round pick back to the Big Easy.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster. I'm excited to finally be here and get this thing going," Paul said. "I'm excited to bring a championship here to LA in a Clippers uniform."

Yep, the Clippers actually trumped the Lakers. The red-headed step-child stuck it to the kid born with the silver spoon in his mouth. For once Kobe and Company were the ones stomping their feet, focusing on the NBA's admittedly stained credibility in this process. Others couldn't help focusing on the new- look Clips.

"(The Clippers) are going to be very exciting to watch, they aren't the little brother anymore," former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal said. "They are all grown up and ready to get some respect now."

Eventually David Stern's blatant usurping of impotent New Orleans general manager Dell Demps will be a footnote. The fact that Paul could have been wearing purple and gold and getting ready to form one of the greatest backcourts in league history with Bryant will fade into the background.

Instead he's part of a new dynamic duo with Griffin and hoping to bring yet another championship to Los Angeles, one that would be truly historic -- the Clippers' first.

"I can't believe I am saying this -- there is a legitimate question now as to who is the best team in LA," TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley said on a recent conference call. "The Clippers have all this young talent and now they have a leader in Chris Paul. He is a great leader. He is going to force them to mature quicker. It is a fair and legitimate question and you just can't say the Lakers. It's a fair question, who's the best team in LA, and it might be the Clippers."