On Christmas Day, the Bulls will face the Lakers, where they will face a squad minus longtime stalwart Lamar Odom. It would be presumptuous to call the Lakers, featuring a new head coach in Mike Brown after Phil Jackson's retirement, a team in disarray. But after trading Odom to the defending-champion Mavericks for a nearly 9 million trade exception and failing to acquire Chris Paul in an attempted deal with the NBA-owned Hornets -- both the departed Odom and holdover Pau Gasol, who would have been shipped to the Rockets, reportedly took umbrage at the swap, as did veteran leader Kobe Bryant -- short of somehow acquiring Dwight Howard (which would likely require trading both Gasol and center Andrew Bynum to the Magic), the aging Lakers are now perceived as no longer one of the league's elite teams.

So while Derrick Rose won't face off with Paul in the season opener, he'll take on his fellow All-Star point guard on the Bulls' first road trip, when the team returns to Los Angeles on Dec. 30, before returning to Chicago in advance of the home opener New Year's Day at the United Center. Paul was dealt to the other tenants of the Staples Center, the Clippers, late Wednesday, in exchange for promising young shooting guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman, second-year small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick, courtesy of the Timberwolves.

The trade was finally consummated after the Clippers, like the Lakers, had their initial trade proposal -- which didn't feature Gordon, who averaged 23 points per game last season and is due to be a free agent next summer -- rejected by the league. Including Gordon, who is poised to be on the fringe of an All-Star Game berth, in the transaction was a high price to pay for the Clippers, who now have four point guards with Paul, the recently acquired Chauncey Billups (signed after being waived by the Knicks), incumbent starter Mo Williams (who was shipped to L.A. in exchange for Baron Davis, due to be amnestied by the Cavaliers, last season) and Eric Bledsoe, a second-year player currently out with a knee injury.

 

For former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro, there could be worse problems -- Billups could fill Gordon's void at shooting guard -- as reigning Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin at power forward, free-agent signee Caron Butler at small forward and re-signed athletic young center DeAndre Jordan (the Clippers matched the Warriors' four-year, 43-million offer sheet) is a potent frontcourt for the unselfish Paul to distribute to. The Clippers still have a long way to go before being taken seriously as a contending team, but based on their roster, anything short of a playoff berth would be a major disappointment.

When compared to the Clippers' big splash, the Bulls' shooting-guard saga, which resulted in Rip Hamilton signing a reported three-year, 15-million contract Wednesday, seems minor, regardless of the disparity of the two teams' respective situations entering the season. However, while the Bulls have an eye on a championship and the Clippers are just seeking respectability, one thing's for certain: Dec. 30, perhaps even more than the season opener, will be must-see TV.