Click here to view the video on YouTube.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics had an eerily similar 2012-13 season. History has often presented us with the opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of the NBA’s two most storied franchises, but usually in a positive light.
This time around, identical dark clouds were cast over both Boston and Los Angeles. As a fan of the Celtics and writer covering the Lakers, I was frequently alerted to the parallel nature of their campaign, from start to finish.
I was most surprised to find out that the Lakers finished eight games over .500 (45-37), while the Celtics could only muster 41 wins over 40 losses (one game was cancelled due to the Boston Marathon tragedy). Both nabbed the seventh seed in their respective conferences and were bounced by better teams in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
What made each team so bad during the regular season? Both will point to a severe bite from the injury bug. Rajon Rondo went down midseason with a torn ACL, immediately ending the Celtics chances at making any noise in the playoffs. Kobe Bryant’s achilles tendon finally gave out from single-handedly carrying a decimated Lakers team through a rough coaching transition and consequentially erratic season.
The Lakers seem to have had it worse, also losing Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and even Dwight Howard for parts of the season. The starting lineup that coach Mike D’Antoni trotted out for Game 4 against San Antonio was downright pitiful. In fairness to Boston, losing Rondo took the wind completely out of the team’s sails, even with Kevin Garnett clenching his teeth down really, really hard. His absence was only compounded when promising rookie Jared Sullinger gave way to a back injury.
The Lakers coaching woes at the beginning of the season (remember, Mike Brown was the head coach when Nash and Howard joined Kobe and Pau) seem drastically different than Boston’s rock-solid coach Doc Rivers. Oh, wait. Rivers pulled his usual post-loss nonsense but finally forced Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to pull the trigger and trade his coach away for assets. Rivers’ pledge to steady the Celtics during the looming rebuild when signing a five-year extension went poof! the same way Mike Brown and his Princeton offense vanished from the Staples Center.
With Rivers’ departure came a fire-sale of Celtics fan favorites, as Paul Pierce and Garnett were shipped to Brooklyn for a mediocre group of players and three future first-rounders. The exit of the faces of the franchise and spiritual leaders was nothing short of a gut punch to a fanbase that had grown fond of Garnett’s in-game antics and Pierce’s naked-eye defying talent at scoring the basketball. I mean seriously, how did he get that body to average 21.8 points per game over the course of his career in green?
If Pierce and Garnett leaving was a gut punch, then the Lakers losing Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets was nothing short of a travesty.
Photo Credit: UPI/Lori Shepler
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GM Mitch Kupchak, who I will later compare to Danny Ainge, usually is ahead of the curb in bringing in the desired talent. Howard’s choice to walk was a humbling moment for the franchise, and a major red flag for the immediate future. Both his departure and the trade of the Celtics heart and soul signify the start of a rebuild.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, Kobe and his $30 million dollar salary are holding them back from blowing the doors off the squad like Danny Ainge did. I will give Mitch Kupchak credit as a shrewd GM who has an impatience for failure and good perspective about how to maintain the franchise’s longevity as a title contender. He’s in a bind now, but still refuses to push the reset button. His choice is consistent as always with the Laker belief that perpetual dominance can be achieved with minor remodels rather than full-blown overhauls. In this respect, the Lakers and Celtics differ.
For in Boston, nobody on the roster is safe. Despite what he may say, Ainge is permanently locked in “do what’s best for the franchise” mode, which could eventually mean a departure from all things related to the Big Three era. I am a fan of the signing of former Butler coach Brad Stevens, and interested to see how well Ainge and his talent evaluators can maximize the draft stock they’ve worked hard to procure this offseason.
The immediate future of both teams (and to be honest, those not called the Miami Heat) looks bleak. Neither will make a run at a title this season, and it’s possible that neither make the postseason for the first and only time since 1993-94. If the Celtics don’t make it, I hope they win 10 games in all and go all-in for Andrew Wiggins.
Click here to view the video on YouTube.
I don’t care what time it is, there is always time to watch Wiggins’ highlight tape.
Side note, if the Lakers don’t make the postseason, I hope they lose a close one on the final night of the season, further stalling the rebuild and delighting every Celtics fan nationwide.