As One Rival Falls to the Bottom of the NBA, Another Rises To the Top


The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics have been rivals since the beginning of the NBA’s 75-year history. However, there have been times when this rivalry has been extremely heated, and other times when it’s barely noticeable. In the 1960s, when the rivalry really took off, it was headlined by Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Bob Cousy. In the 1970s, the Celtics’ franchise faces became players like Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, and Jo Jo White. The Lakers traded for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1976, and a few years later they drafted Magic Johnson. The Celtics would draft Larry Bird in 1978, and trade for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish soon after. The Lakers would draft James Worthy with the number one pick in the 1982 draft, and soon pick up Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, and Michael Cooper, all under head coach Pat Riley.

Credit to Andrew D. Bernstein of Getty Images for Picture

The rivalry would simmer down in the 90s, with both teams being shells of their former selves. Celtics fans got glimmers of hope when they drafted Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, and after a disappointing decade of mediocrity, Lakers fans immediately had something to look forward towards. Los Angeles became title contenders, behind their new found duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Unfortunately, the Celtics weren’t a formidable foe to the powerhouse Lakers, and Larry Bird was busy coaching Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. It was during the 2008 season when the Celtics became relevant again, bringing in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, two Hall-of-Famers. The Lakers had reloaded after three-peating, acquiring Pau Gasol and Ron Artest. The rivalry appeared to get even more intense when the Lakers were about to acquire Chris Paul; but they couldn’t because the trade was vetoed. So, they brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard; which turned out to be a horrible decision. The Lakers played horribly, and bringing in the former MVP and DPOY set them back for years. The Celtics weren’t much better, trading Allen to the Heat, and finding out that point guard Rajon Rondo was a toxic presence in the locker room.

Credit to Kirby Lee of USA Today Sports for Picture

Since these events in the past, both teams have taken different paths. After Kobe’s farewell tour, the Lakers were left with lots of young talent, like D’Angelo Russell, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Larry Nance Jr, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Brook Lopez. However, in typical Lakers’ fashion, all of the players listed above would be traded in an effort to acquire bigger names and talent. There’s no disputing the results, as the Lakers brought in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, winning the 2020 NBA Championship inside the Disney Bubble. However, the team took a turn for the worse after they brought in Russell Westbrook during the 2021 offseason.

The Celtics went on a different path after blowing up their super team. A rebuild that was supposed to take a few years sped up very quickly, as in 2016, the Celtics drafted Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick. They had lots of other draft capital, because when they traded away Garnett and Pierce, they took the Brooklyn Nets’ 2014, 2016, and 2018 first-round picks. The Nets were the worst team in the entire NBA, and all of these picks had immense value, netting the Celtics future All-Stars.

Also netting an All-Star for the Celtics was a trade for 5’9″ Isaiah Thomas. Thomas wasn’t given the chance he deserved in Sacramento and Phoenix, and after he was traded to the Celtics for Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick, he proved how much of a steal the trade was. In his debut with the Celtics, Thomas scored 21 points off the bench in a 118-111 loss to the Lakers, and from there, Brad Stevens gave Thomas the keys to the offense. He thrived in this new role, averaging 28.9 points per game, while being named an All-Star and finishing fifth in 2017 MVP voting behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James. Thomas led the Celtics past the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, before sitting out the Eastern Conference Finals due to a hip injury, in which the Celtics would lose to the Cavaliers.

Credit to Greg M. Cooper of USA Today Sports for Picture

The Celtics looked like they had a chance to win the title in 2018, as they not only had their full team from the previous year, but the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft. In a strange move at the time, the Celtics traded down to the number three selection, and drafted Jayson Tatum, a future All-Star and All-NBA talent. Unfortunately, the chemistry of the team would unravel as Kyrie Irving was brought in, and Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and a pick, which, if I’m not mistaken, turned into Collin Sexton. After two years, Irving left the Celtics, and while Kemba Walker was a solid leader, his defense wasn’t anything to write home about. Since then it’s been Brown and Tatum carrying the team, with many questioning if the duo is enough to win a championship.

Credit to Adam Pantozzi of Getty Images for Picture

This brings us to this year. The Los Angeles Lakers are 27-31 at the All-Star break, which is a winning percentage of .466. No LeBron-led team has ever had a winning percentage this low in a championship season. It isn’t just the stats that say this boom or bust season is a bust; players are saying that too. After getting blown out by Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, 131-116, James was quick to point out what he learned from the game.

“We ain’t on their {The Bucks’} level”

LeBron James

James followed this up by saying that he didn’t think the Lakers could reach the Bucks’ level. When one of the greatest players ever says his team isn’t good enough, you know there’s a problem. They are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and the Lakers will be lucky to make the playoffs this year. It’s clear to everyone that bringing in Westbrook was the wrong move, as opposed to Buddy Hield, Kyle Lowry, or DeMar DeRozan. I expect he’ll be gone this offseason, but even more importantly, I think someone else needs to leave this franchise: Rob Pelinka. I don’t think it’s Frank Vogel’s fault the team is playing as horribly as it is; he wasn’t given the best tools to work with. Pelinka is bringing in star players without thinking about fit; it feels like he sees an All-Star available and trades to get them blindly. The Lakers need a new GM. Have LeBron retire and move to the front office; it’ll help the team more1.

Credit to Scott Cunningham of Getty Images for Picture

As for the Celtics, they weren’t anything to write home about at the beginning of this season. Danny Ainge retired as President of Basketball Operations, and the job became Brad Stevens’, the former Head Coach. The new coach became Ime Udoka, who took a little while to get to know the Celtics’ system. At first, it took the players a bit to buy into the system, and by a bit, I mean around half the season. When they were still figuring out how to play with one another, the team was just under .500, but towards the end of January, something changed. There’s no telling what caused the shift in the organization, but it had to have been something pretty important, given the turnaround. Look at this tweet from Jaylen Brown:

Since this tweet, Brown has proved to have been a prophet. The Celtics won 10 games in a row since then, only losing before All-Star weekend to the Detroit Pistons. The Celtics are 34-26, good for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. Their defense has dramatically improved, part of which has to do with acquiring Derrick White at the trade deadline. Marcus Smart has become reenergized and is still a defensive beast, and the paint is solid with Robert Williams and Al Horford holding down the fort. In fact, Williams has the highest offensive and defensive rating in the entire NBA as of right now. The team as a whole is gelling wonderfully, as since Christmas, the Celtics hold the best Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating and Largest Scoring Margin. They are 1st in scoring defense, and 1st in offensive field goal percentage, making them one of the best teams in the NBA as of late.

Credit to Maddie Meyer of Getty Images for Picture

Do I realistically think the Celtics are title contenders? No, there are two many good teams and players in the Eastern Conference for them to win it all this year; James Harden and Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo; you get the point. Even if the Celtics could make it past all these teams, they’re no match up for the three-headed monsters of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins or Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton.

Do you think the Celtics can get a top four seed in the Eastern Conference this year? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!

 

1: I’m not joking. I know LeBron still has a few good years left in him, but after that, make him the GM of the Lakers. He’s already got the nickname LeGM, and he’d be better than Rob Pelinka is right now. Thoughts?

 

One thought on “As One Rival Falls to the Bottom of the NBA, Another Rises To the Top

  1. Thank you for a great history lesson and for bringing back some fond memories of the powerhouse Celtics. Can they return to their glory years? Yes of course they can, just look at the NETS from the bottom to the top just by spending some money and bringing in experienced players such as Irving, Durant, Harden and Griffin, and now Simmons, along with some young guys to round out their roster. As for LeBron, let me just say GO NETS.

    Liked by 2 people

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