Column: Could We See Lakers And Celtics History Made This Season?
Column: Could We See History Made This Season?
We’re still about a month away from Training Camp opening up here, so I’ll stress from the beginning it’s far too early to start making bold predictions about who will be in the playoff hunt come April. But this offseason has created some major shifts for two of the NBA’s most storied franchises, and it could lead to an incredibly rare playoff scenario in about seven months.
The Summer of 2013 will be remembered in Boston and Los Angeles for Celtics and Lakers fans long after this upcoming season is over—whether they want to or not. That’s because it included the end of an era out East, as beloved Celtics players Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to Brooklyn and coach Doc Rivers—who helped deliver banner No. 17 in 2008—left as part of a trade with the Clippers. Out West, the Lakers watched as coveted, tabloid-friendly center Dwight Howard left for Houston via free agency. This coming after a season in which Kobe Bryant suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, Mike D’Antoni replaced the fired Mike Brown after a 1-4 start and a group of aging starters began showing signs of slowing down.
What that leaves us with are two franchises that have combined for 33 NBA titles and just 21 combined missed playoffs (Lakers-5, Celtics-16) with their 2013-14 postseason eligibility in jeopardy. Both teams were seventh seeds last year, and both will need to fight through some growing pains in the upcoming campaign.
There has only been one season since 1948-49 in which both the Lakers and Celtics have both missed the postseason. That’s a span of 64 years. Will this season be the second?
You could make that argument heading in. The Celtics are going to be exceptionally young for the first time since pre-2008, when Rivers, Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen came together and helped lead the Cs to their first title since 1986. I was living in Boston at the time, watched Game 6 at Faneuil Hall and was outside the Garden when the Celtics beat the Lakers 131-92 to win it all. Pandemonium.
That “Big 3” was a three-year plan that turned into six years of success, playoff runs and two Finals appearances. Now, with a starting lineup completely void of starters from that season—aside from All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo—combined with a young, unproven bench and new coach Brad Stevens, and 2013-14 could be a learning curve year in Beantown.
Now, onto the Lakers—and let me just say I’m not one to count out Kobe Bryant because that’s never worked out well for anyone. And with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash (and their 27 combined All-Star appearances) still together in the starting lineup, there’s always the possibility this team will get hot.
But for the sake of argument…
Howard was the focal point of his past two teams for reasons beyond basketball. There were questions about how much he enjoyed playing for the Magic during his final years in Orlando as well as during his time with the Lakers. There were questions about how he meshed with Kobe Bryant, how to play Howard and Pau Gasol together, etc. But he is still a perennial All-Star, double-double machine and Defensive Player of the Year threat, making him an asset the Lakers seemingly wanted to build around. They are, after all, the gold standard franchise of elite centers ranging from Mikan to Wilt to Kareem to Shaq—all of which were big reasons why the Lakers have missed the playoffs just five times in franchise history.
Add in Kobe’s road to recovery, the health of Gasol and Steve Nash, the departures of Metta World Peace and Earl Clark, and the necessity to build serviceable role players into Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, and there are enough question marks surrounding the Lakers to merit this conversation. Kobe willed last year’s team into the postseason. Will they have enough to get back?
That also begs the question of how the West’s landscape will look come playoff time. There will be the staples at the top, including the past two Western Conference champions in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. The Clippers and Grizzlies will have enough tactical talent and fire power to make a run, while the Warriors have a scary starting 5 (Curry/Thompson/Iguodala/Lee/Bogut) and the Rockets have a flashy Howard/James Harden tandem that should provide some entertaining basketball in Houston.
Minnesota just reworked its roster this offseason, re-signing 3-point threat Chase Budinger while adding talent like shooting guard Kevin Martin, defensive wing Corey Brewer and veteran Ronny Turiaf. Add that to a healthy roster including All-Star Kevin Love, powerful center Nikola Pekovic and beloved point guard Ricky Rubio, and there’s reason to believe the Wolves will be in that conversation as well.
To count both the Lakers or Celtics out quite frankly goes against all historical precedent—it has happened 1.5 percent of the time over the last six decades. But if it does happen to occur, it means two things. One, the West essentially gained an additional playoff spot given the Lakers are penciled in each season. And two, you’ll witness something that only happened once before in your lifetime.
And with that, we open up a new storyline to watch this season.
Get this history books ready just in case.