Chris Paul was expected to join Kobe Bryant and bolster the Los Angeles Lakers' chances at winning a third NBA title in four years.
Instead, he's found himself driving the revival of their more unheralded co-tenants.
Fresh off a signature win, Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers look to keep rolling when they open their regular-season series with Bryant and the Lakers on Saturday night.
Once the lockout was settled, Paul expressed his desire to be traded from league-owned New Orleans instead of playing out the final season of his contract. It seemed the Hornets found a suitor in the Lakers (9-4), but a three-team trade that also involved Houston was nixed by commissioner David Stern due to "basketball reasons."
A week later, the superstar point guard was traded to the Clippers (5-3) for three players and Minnesota's 2012 first-round pick.
Joining a team that also includes Blake Griffin, Paul's acquisition has made the Clippers a Western Conference contender, an expectation they're backing up on the court.
Paul is averaging 16.1 points while ranking among the NBA leaders with 8.8 assists and 2.8 steals, and the Clippers are gaining steam by winning four of five while holding opponents under 90 points in each victory.
He turned in his best performance in a Clippers uniform Wednesday, scoring a season-high 27 points while dishing out 11 assists in a 95-89 overtime victory against Miami. That win was aided by more strong defensive play, as the Clippers held the Heat to season lows in scoring and shooting percentage (39.5).
"It's good to get a win and get it by grinding it out," said Griffin, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Paul could make a major impact when he faces the Lakers for his first time as a Clipper in a game that counts. He's averaged 20.3 points and 11.8 assists in 20 career regular-season meetings against them.
While Paul has the Clippers feeling good about ending their five-season playoff drought, Bryant is on a tear as he leads the league with an average of 31.2 points.
The two-time scoring champ is certainly excited for the first meeting in what - at least based on the Clippers' two tense preseason victories - seems destined to become a heated rivalry.
"It's a good test. I'm looking forward to it," Bryant said. "It's going to be a good challenge. We're going to be pumped up and excited. There's going to be a lot of energy."
The 13-time All-Star is averaging 39.0 points during the Lakers' five-game winning streak, scoring at least 40 points in each of the last three contests despite dealing with torn ligaments in his right wrist.
The injury didn't seem to bother him Friday, as Bryant made 15 of 31 shots for 42 points in a 97-92 win over Cleveland.
"The wrist is feeling stronger, feeling more comfortable," Bryant said. "It's just motivation. Nobody wants to hear about a bad wrist as being the reason why I had a bad game. Nobody wants to hear excuses."
Bryant hasn't needed excuses when facing the Clippers, averaging 29.7 points over the last seven matchups with the Lakers winning five. He scored 37 points in the most recent meeting, a 112-104 win March 25.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are providing some scoring help for Bryant, averaging 16.9 and 16.6 points, respectively. Both had double-doubles against the Cavaliers, and coach Mike Brown wants to see more of the same.
"We have to make sure we keep executing offensively so we don't need to rely on (Bryant) so much," Brown said. "It's good to have a guy like Kobe Bryant in your pocket."
The Clippers may feel the same way about Griffin, the team leader with 23.3 points per game and 10.8 rebounds. The reigning rookie of the year has been held below 20 points just once this season, and scored 22 in each of the last two meetings with the Lakers.