Are the Los Angeles Clippers the best NBA team in Los Angeles this season?
TNT's NBA analyst Charles Barkley said that might be the case after this week's blockbuster deal that sent New Orleans Hornets star guard Chris Paul to the Clippers.
“I can't believe I'm saying this,” Barkley said in a conference call Thursday. “Who is the best team in L.A., in that building? The Clippers have all that young talent and now they've got a leader. The Clippers have not had that. He (Paul) is going to force them to mature quicker. I think it's a fair and legitimate question and it might be the Clippers.”
Fellow analyst Kenny Smith wouldn't go that far but said he is ready to buy tickets to watch Paul dish it off to Blake Griffin and others.
“They're exciting. I'm going to see dunks and crossovers and moves,” he said. “But when I walk in the building when the purple and gold (the Lakers) play, you're going to see winning and that's been their tradition.”
New addition Shaquille O'Neal, a 15-time NBA All-Star, agreed the Clippers would be exciting. “The Clippers are not the little brother anymore,” he said. “They're all grown up now.”
It's clear from the conference call that O'Neal will make the NBA's best studio team even better when the trio share their strong opinions with glib host Ernie Johnson. They will make their debut at 10 a.m. Christmas Day before TNT's Boston Celtics at New York Knicks telecast.
The trio had mixed opinions about whether the NBA is damaging the season by starting on Christmas Day and still playing a 66-game schedule.
“I'm really concerned about injuries,” Barkley said. “I look at the football thing. I think we've seen a great amount of injuries in the NFL than has been in the past because there was a short training camp.”
Smith said he preferred a 55-game season. “So you would still have some type lapse in between games and not be playing as many three games in three nights, five in six.”
O'Neal said he was comfortable with the quick turnaround after reaching the labor agreement. He particularly liked the rush of trades and player signings in the past week. “Like the TNT slogan,” he said, “we love drama.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder will make the first of six TNT appearances on Dec. 29 when they host the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. Barkley ducked a question by Johnson on whether he would make a trip to Oklahoma City as he had promised a few years ago.
“I should go there and play defense because Oklahoma State or Oklahoma, they can't stop anybody,” Barkley said, referring to defensive liabilities of the Cowboys' and Sooners' football teams.
In 2006, Barkley made disparaging comments about Oklahoma to Paul when the Hornets played in Oklahoma City, referring to the state as a “vast wasteland.”
Barkley said he has enjoyed watching college basketball during the NBA's dryspell. The same couldn't be said for O'Neal, who said he wouldn't be part of TNT's NCAA Tournament coverage.
“I'm not really a fan of college basketball,” he said. “When I'm at home, I watch a lot of this show, NBA TV and Maury Povich.”