Clippers or Lakers run Los Angeles?

Good friends, better enemies?

Less than a week after it was looking like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were going to join forces, the All-Star duo will now be squaring off in what could (finally) be a heated Los Angeles basketball rivalry. Which leads to the inevitable question:

Are the Clippers now better than the Lakers?

Our team of experts weighs in on the potential Staples Center war about to be waged.

1. Who are the three best players in Los Angeles?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: (1) Chris Paul. (2) Kobe Bryant. (3) Blake Griffin. And I feel ludicrous leaving Pau Gasol off the list because he's one of the best reasons to watch basketball in Los Angeles. The point is that if you have the next six months free and unlimited resources, rent a place within five blocks of Staples Center, buy two sets of season tickets and die happy.

Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: (1) Chris Paul. (2) Kobe Bryant. (3) Blake Griffin. Paul is arguably the league's best point guard since Magic Johnson and clearly the best player in L.A. Bryant, while diminishing in skill, is still the "King of L.A." However, his throne is in danger. Griffin, the almighty challenger, is rapidly approaching Bryant in terms of skill set and stature, and he should be ruling L.A. for years to come.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Paul edges out Kobe only because Kobe, at the age of 33, is now slightly less effective than he used to be. Paul, to me, is still the best point guard in the NBA and can have a bigger impact on the game right now. Griffin is a distant third and just a sliver ahead of Pau Gasol. But with Paul throwing him lobs and getting him a few extra easy buckets a night, Griffin should quickly start widening the gap between him and Gasol.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: (1) Kobe Bryant, (2) Chris Paul, (3) Pau Gasol. Kobe and Paul could easily be switched here with little complaint from me. They're both sublime players who impact the game like few others. Gasol, though, continues to be the third-best player in Los Angeles because of his work on the boards, his all-around offensive game, underrated help and positional defense, and elite passing.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: (1) Chris Paul. (2) Kobe Bryant. (3) Blake Griffin. CP3 is a certifiable top-10 talent. All those miles have slowed Kobe just enough to open up the floor for Griffin, another top-15 talent. But the holes in Griffin's game -- you still don't have to guard him when he's 18 feet out and his tendency to overdribble gets him into trouble -- keep him third for now. Barely.

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Faizan Qurashi (1) Kobe Bryant -- five-time NBA champ; the Mamba can still get it done. (2) Chris Paul -- the best pure PG in the league bar none. (3) Blake Griffin --- most athletic and electrifying player in the league, soon to be the best power forward in the league.

2. Better trio: CP3-Griffin-Jordan or Kobe-Gasol-Bynum?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: I'm going with the Clippers because I believe Chris Paul is about to do incredible things for Blake Griffin's game. If Griffin can take care of mastering a face-up 18-footer, Paul will take care of the rest. We might also see the Chandlerization of DeAndre Jordan. Kobe-Pau-Andrew Bynum will still win a ton of games.

Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: Kobe-Pau-Bynum … but barely. Based off each team's top two players, I'd rather have the younger, more efficient and more exciting duo of Griffin and Paul. Bryant and Gasol will be falling off soon, while Paul and Griffin will only improve. But the Lakers gain a slight advantage when you add Bynum and Jordan into the mix.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: This season, I take Kobe-Pau-Bynum. CP3 and Kobe are a wash. Ditto for Blake and Pau. But Bynum is considerably better than Jordan as long as he stays healthy. But long term? The Clippers have the Lakers beat all the way. Kobe and Pau are on the downside. CP3 is in his prime and Griffin and Jordan are still on their way up.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Kobe-Pau-Bynum. Even if you consider Paul as the best of the bunch, the difference between he and Kobe is marginal. Meanwhile, Gasol is a better all-around player than Griffin and Bynum does everything on a basketball court better than Jordan. Griffin's ascension could change this in a year or two, but as of now, give me the Lakers' trio.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: It'd be nice to see the Clippers' trio play at least once together before making this judgment. But I'm guilty. Guilty of getting sucked into the hype and doing what you're not supposed to do when it comes to player evaluations … which is to say making an assessment based off a handful of games. I'm admitting to you here that Pau lost me with his playoff struggles last season. Combine that with the fact that he's clearly shaken up mentally by the possibility of being traded multiples times in the past week and it's hard to see how he'll have the same effectiveness.

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Pablo Ramon: CP3-Blake-Jordan. CP3 will actually make Jordan a force on offense, and will help make Blake a better scorer, not to mention beautiful alley-oop passes. Kobe just doesn't make his teammates better as much as CP3 does.

3. How will the Clippers and Lakers fare this season?

A. Clippers have better regular-season record and go further in postseason
B. Clippers have better regular-season record, but Lakers go further in postseason
C. Lakers have better regular-season record, but Clippers go further in postseason
D. Lakers have better regular-season record and go further in postseason

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: A. Paul and Chauncey Billups can tame the Clippers' youth. It's a grown-up's backcourt, and the gravitas will come in handy in May. The one caveat here is a potential midseason acquisition of Dwight Howard by the Lakers.

Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: D. The Lakers are still the best team in L.A. They have more collective playoff experience and have been together for longer. The Clippers will be working in new rotation players (Paul, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, big man or wing X) and will need time to jell. There'll be some growing pains, to say the least.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: If the Lakers stay pat, I still think the Lakers will have a better regular-season record and go further in postseason. But, unless they get Dwight Howard, this is the last year I'll be saying that. The Clippers' future is very bright. This may be the swan song for the Lakers.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: D. Both teams face roster upheaval, and the Lakers also have a new coaching staff to adapt to. But give me the Lakers' experience, veteran leadership and motivation from last season's embarrassing postseason ending as the deciding factors in which team has a better season.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: D. Playoff know-how still counts for something around here when the NBA tournament starts. And the Lakers still have a copious amount of experience, grinding through the regular season and into the postseason, even without Lamar Odom or coach Phil Jackson. They'll win when they need to.

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Matt Overing: D. I think the Lakers are still a top-tier team in the West. If they square off in the first round of the NBA playoffs, that would be epic.

4. Who'll be better in 2013-14: Clippers or Lakers?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: If the Clippers can win big over the next two seasons, it's hard to imagine Griffin moving on, or Paul giving up the most money and most years to go elsewhere -- so figure the Clippers. But if the Clippers underachieve, the pull from down the hall will be powerful for Paul. The Lakers could also end up with Howard and any other high-profile star who doesn't mind abundant sunshine and playing in front of celebrities in a city that's a playground for young guys with money.

Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: The Clippers. With their current roster, Paul would be foolish not to re-sign. He'll have two of the game's best young big men at his disposal for the foreseeable future, as well as a bevy of talented veterans and shooters. While elsewhere in L.A., Kobe and Gasol are quickly fading, the Lakers are capped out and you can't trust Bynum's knees or psyche.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: Well, obviously that depends on whether Chris Paul stays a Clipper. If he does, and Blake Griffin and company avoid any freak Clipper-esque injuries, they have a team that's capable of winning a championship. In two years the Lakers will have Andrew Bynum and who?

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: The Lakers. Kobe and Gasol are signed through that season and Bynum will either be in the fold or traded away to bring in another core player. Meanwhile, the Clips have no guarantees Paul stays beyond the '12-13 season, and without him, they're back to square one with only Griffin to build around.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: History says that the Lakers will always find a way to emerge from a decline in their status with a new superstar traded to them. History also says that owner Donald T. Sterling's story offers little to no evidence that he has any hope of keeping Blake and CP3. Advantage, Lakers.

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Seann Tan: Clippers. Youth will overtake experience at some point and 2-3 years down the line should be enough time for maturity.

5. Will Dwight Howard play home games in L.A. in April?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: The Lakers still have to be the odds-on favorite in the Howard derby, particularly if Andrew Bynum stays healthy and performs up to potential. So, yes.

Jovan Buha, ClipperBlog: No. At this point, it seems Dwight actually prefers Brooklyn (err, I mean New Jersey) to L.A. Either way, the Magic aren't looking to shop him right now and may wait out the season. Regardless, the Nets and Bulls (if they get involved) have better assets, unless the Lakers are willing to offer Gasol and Bynum and compromise their entire frontcourt depth.

Chad Ford, ESPN.com: If the Magic are smart, yes. I believe an offer of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol may be the best thing the Magic will get if their goal is to put a team on the floor that can still compete every night.

Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold: Yes. Mitch Kupchak seems determined to make a big move and one for Howard would be one of the biggest -- literally and figuratively. Whether it's this month or by the trade deadline in March, I see the Lakers putting together an attractive enough package to pry Howard away from Orlando.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: If the Lakers put both Bynum and Gasol in a deal for Howard, then the answer is likely yes. If not, I expect New Jersey to keep pounding on Magic management up to the trade deadline or until it wears down Orlando and gets its man.

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John Raycroft: Yes, the Lakers lost out on CP3, no way they are going to lose out on Howard, too.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz, Chad Ford and Marc Stein cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Jovan Buha and Darius Soriano contribute to the TrueHoop Network.

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