Catch that riveting Celtics-Lakers game Friday night? Yeah, neither did I.
Talk about a scheduling nightmare. The game featuring the two marquee franchises – as opposed to teams – was the second of ESPN’s Friday Night doubleheader. It featured two teams who have a combined 13 wins over the last two-plus months.
With Kobe Bryant and the calcifying-before-our-eyes Steve Nash out, the Lakers’ only discernible attraction was Pau Gasol. The Celtics had Rajon Rondo, whose much-trumpeted comeback from knee surgery has helped the team to a pair of victories in 12 games.
The game was decided by a pair of Lakers’ playing in their first game for the team. One, Marshon Brooks, had been with the Celtics earlier in the season. The other, Kent Bazemore, is someone only NBA freaks and geeks knew about until he was traded on Thursday.
It has come to this. The Celtics stink. The Lakers stink. They will both miss the playoffs for the first time since 1994. They are battling for Ping Pong balls now, an unimaginable scenario for two proud franchises who have 32 NBA titles between them and who have met in the NBA Finals 12 times.
Now, here’s the rub. Neither one is going to win a title in the next few years. But one team is a lot closer to getting the next championship than the other. One team has a roster of up and coming young players. One team has a promising young coach. One team has a future. The other one has, well, hope and weather.
Guess which is which.
If you ask any NBA executive which roster he’d rather have, the overwhelming, probably unanimous sentiment would be that of the Celtics. They have Rondo, who turned 28 on Saturday. They have two impressive youngsters in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, both of whom played in the Rising Stars Game during All-Star Weekend. They have Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, although the former can’t seem to stay healthy and the latter is maddeningly inconsistent. They have a respected young coach.
The Lakers have . . . who, exactly? I had to fight off a laugh attack when ESPN ran a story saying how the Lakers were trying to trade for Kevin Love. Really? When exactly did Minnesota basketball czar Flip Saunders start taking Stupid Pills? Who on earth could the Lakers offer to even get Saunders to answer the phone?
This is the starting five that the Lakers trotted out on Friday: Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Kendall Marshall, Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly. The bench consisted of the two newbies, Brooks and Bazemore, along with two Jordans (Hill and Farmar) and Chris Kaman. That’s it.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The Lakers won the game. They also beat the Celtics in Boston and swept the season series from their arch nemesis-rival. They have as many wins in a much tougher conference. All of that is true.
But that is in the here and now – and neither team cares a whit about this season. The Lakers have no plan, other than to try and lure Love or some other high priced free agent. They should have money to spend, although the rapacious Bryant is consuming a large chunk of their payroll when he could have settled for much less to give the team some flexibility. But he didn’t.
But if you’re Kevin Love, or any other marquee free agent, why would you go to a team that is demonstrably worse than the one you’re on? (Or, as Kevin Garnett memorably said after rejected his first deal to Boston – from one garbage can to another.)
In the summer of 2015, the only draw the Lakers will have is the getting-ready-to-retire Bryant, and, if they choose wisely, some stud they’ve procured from the lottery in 2014. Gasol will be gone. Nash will be gone. The remaining Lakers, put together, couldn’t get Kevin Love.
If you’re looking ahead to this summer, good luck. The same scenario unfolds with the exception that the creaky Nash is still on the books for $9.7 million next season. Eleven of their players are impending free agents, nine of them, including Gasol, unrestricted.
So LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are going to leave Miami for that? Why do you think Dwight Howard said ‘no thanks?’ (Hint: it wasn’t because he couldn’t stand the glare of the big lights, as Shaq postulated. He went to a better team.)
The Celtics don’t have the cap room available this summer, but, in addition to a much more appealing roster, they also have a slew of first-round draft picks over the next five years. In short, they have a plan. They have a fearless general manager in Danny Ainge who doesn’t just think outside the box. He lives outside the box. He has accumulated assets.
Whoever is calling the shots in Lakerland – Jim Buss, presumably – has allowed the team to become a patchwork quilt of minimum wagers, one-and-dones and castoffs.
Come to LA! We’re not any good, but the weather is great! That will be the recruiting pitch going forward.
Anything else would violate the Truth in Advertising Act.
Peter May is the only writer who covered the final NBA games played by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. He has covered the league for three decades for The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe and has written three books on the Boston Celtics. His work also appears in The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter.
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