Howard, Paul to L.A. ... Clippers?

LOS ANGELES -- The trade proposals sound like something you'd hear from an irrational Los Angeles Lakers fan after a bad loss in December.

Blow up the team. Trade Pau Gasol for Chris Paul. Trade Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu. Maybe there's a way to package Luke Walton, Steve Blake and Metta World Peace for another All-Star in his prime.

After all, when it comes to superstars playing for the Lakers, anything is possible. Let's not forget that this franchise traded Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie and draft picks for Gasol and got Kobe Bryant for Vlade Divac straight up.

While Lakers fans try to preorder their purple-and-gold Howard and Paul jerseys today, something interesting is happening across town. The other team in Los Angeles is positioning itself to make an equally big splash in the market and upstage the Lakers.

If Howard and Paul do end up playing together next season in Los Angeles, they're going to be playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Lakers.

Of course, this goes against all logic for anyone who has been following the NBA for the past 35 years and has seen what both of these franchises have done (10 championships for the Lakers, four brief playoff appearances for the Clippers).

The Clippers aren't the ones who are supposed to make the trade for an All-Star in his prime or select the best player in the draft. They're supposed to trade Zach Randolph for Quentin Richardson and draft Yaroslav Korolev in the lottery. And for the past 35 fruitless years they've played the role of the hapless loser to perfection.

Those days, however, seem to be coming to an end. The Clippers have started to build a young nucleus of players similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder have done in the past four years. Players like Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu are proof that Clippers draft picks since 2008 are no longer walking punch lines but rather All-Stars and solid contributors.

If the New Orleans Hornets and the Orlando Magic want to build for the future by trading Paul and Howard, respectively, they'd be better off talking to the Clippers rather than the Lakers. Even when you remove Griffin -- who is off-limits -- from the equation, there are plenty of assets to work with on the Clippers' roster. Aside from the players, there's Chris Kaman's expiring $12.2 million contract and the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2012 unprotected first-round draft pick, which the Clippers own and easily could become the first overall pick in the draft.

The Clippers are also in position to sign Paul or Howard as a free agent if a trade isn't made for one of them before the trade deadline in March. The Clippers are about $13 million under the projected $58 million salary cap this season and will be in position to offer a maximum-salary contract to a free agent next year. It's the kind of flexibility that might force New Orleans or Orlando to make a deal now rather than potentially lose Paul or Howard through free agency in the offseason and get nothing in return.

As well as the Clippers have drafted in the past four years, this is still uncharted territory for them. They seem far more comfortable building their current team through the draft and adding complementary pieces such as Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes along the way and making a push for free agents like Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince and Shane Battier.

That's all well and good if you want to simply make the playoffs, get eliminated in the first round and continue to watch the Lakers grab all the headlines in this city. The Clippers are in a unique place in their history where they can finally grab those headlines and capture the heart of Los Angeles by bringing in the league's best center and point guard while keeping their best player in the process. As far as Big Threes go in the NBA, it would be rivaled by only that trio in South Beach that's supposed to win seven or eight championships at some point.

The Clippers aren't even supposed to be in these kinds of conversations, which is exactly why they need to do everything in their power to make this dream a reality and finally be taken seriously.

Perceptions that have been built over 35 years aren't normally changed overnight -- they take years to alter -- but if the Clippers can make a splash like this, they would not only shatter whatever perception they had but also alter the landscape of the NBA and perhaps just as importantly basketball in Los Angeles.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLA.com.