A good friend of mine, a die hard Lakers fan, called me the other day and shouted: “have you seen what they´ve done on the http://www.nba.com/lakers/roster page? A picture of Brandon Bass with that dirty ugly green uniform! They should change it ASAP, it gave me a headache for hours! The blasphemy! The horror… the horror!”, he added, a natural reaction to his vehement repulse for the Celtics uniform in particular and for the proud C´s in general. Those comments made me wonder about the legacy of both teams and, moreover, the continuation of their long time tradition of NBA Finals Matchups:
“The rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers involves the two most storied franchises in NBA history. It has been called the NBA’s best rivalry. The two teams have met a record twelve times in the NBA Finals, starting with their first Finals meeting in 1959. They would go on to dominate the league in the 1960s and the 1980s, facing each other six times in the 1960s, three times in the 1980s, in 2008, and in 2010. The rivalry had been less intense since the retirements of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the early 1990s, but in 2008 it was renewed as the Celtics and Lakers met in the Finals for the first time since 1987, with the Celtics winning the series in six games. They faced off once again in the 2010 NBA Finals which the Lakers won in seven games. The two teams have won the two highest numbers of championships, the Celtics 17, the Lakers 16; together, the 33 championships account for almost half of the 67 championships in NBA history.” in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtics%E2%80%93Lakers_rivalry
Those epic NBA Finals from the 80´s – where Bird and Magic fought for the League´s dominance – had a nice revival with the Celtics “Big Three Era” facing the Kobe-Gasol connection. They split these series, managing to keep the discussions interesting enough to fuel heated debates about which is the best Franchise in the NBA. At the moment, with the score almost tied, it is time to look into the near future. From these two historic Franchises, which one is closer to add some Championships to their Trophy Room and claim superiority to their rival?
Taking the next step
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the big ticket Kevin Garnett are gone. Even Rondo moved away. They now belong to the best recent memories of the Celtics fanbase. So what exactly is in store for the new Celtics, showing a very diversified roster and a desire to keep evolving from last year´s Playoff experience?
Let´s start with the youngsters who, according to many pundits, are the cornerstones of the Celtics future. Marcus Smart showed a lot of interesting qualities last season. Some see him as a revised and upgraded edition of Rondo, maybe not as good and imaginative when creating razzle-dazzle assists but better from a physical and – more importantly! – shooting perspective. Some of his highlight plays kept the Celtics faithful fanbase eager to see him grow and develop as he gets more playing time and experience (his injury was an unfortunate setback). Isaiah Thomas is an accomplished scorer, showcasing an impressive 26.4 Pts on the PER 36: http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/t/thomais02.html. Sullinger is already a clear asset in this organization, presenting respectable numbers in his young career:
With the inclusion of RJ Hunter and the hopeful explosion of Perry Jones (which some see as a “hidden pearl” wasted by the Thunder), the young C´s seem ready to amp up their game. Here´s Danny Ainge take on the addition of Perry Jones: “With OKC there hasn’t been as much of an opportunity for him to play as much as he would like as a youngster on a team trying to compete for a championship, but very athletic, a different type of player than we have on the frontcourt right now with his athleticism and length.” It sounds promising. What about the rest of the roster?
This is where it gets harder to evaluate. The Celtics have a lot of players on that stage of their careers where they either take the next step or stay in that “mid-level” area. The NBA Scholar is alluding to Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, players who some expect to elevate their game. Speaking of Crowder, he seems to be really happy to stay with the C´s, as Mark Murphy reported on the Boston Herald:
“No one enjoyed himself more than Jae Crowder yesterday. The forward, whose five-year, $35 million contract was made official at the Celtics practice facility, called out from the podium to his family, best friend, agent, agent’s family and college coach — who were all on hand. But it was the other five players seated beside Crowder who especially made the moment worthwhile. David Lee, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Perry Jones are proof that the Celtics are trying to improve on last season’s 40-win finish.”
“David Lee, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Perry Jones are proof that the Celtics are trying to improve on last season’s 40-win finish.” Will they really be able to help? Lee is approaching the end of his career. Amir Johnson and Jerebko are two big question marks. On Scholar´s view, they won´t be more than average serviceable players. Don´t expect much from them, Celtics fans. Good solid minutes but nothing extraordinary.
In conclusion, the near future looks bright for the Celtics, although they might be two or three moves away to a real improvement. Smart and I. Thomas look solid at the backcourt but the forwards and centers look doubtful at times. Evan Turner still hasn´t developed a reliable outside shot and his game, although spectacular sometimes, still shows a lot of erratic actions. Can the Zeller and Olynyk center partnership improve to more respectable numbers? Can Zoran Dragic pick up on some of his brother´s moves and surprise everyone? With some sprinkles of D. Ainge’s wizard moves at the backoffice, plus the competence of the coaching staff already shown by Brad Stevens (who Ainge recently stated “will be one of the great coaches to ever coach”), the Celtics might be back to the brightest stage sooner than anyone can expect.
Exciting times in LA
Coming off one of the most negative seasons in its history, the Lakers look to bounce back with a sense of urgency. Blessed with a high pick on the draft, there are great expectations for the rookie sensation D’Angelo Russell and the “second-season rookie” Julius Randle, who suffered one of the biggest setbacks last year: a season ending injury as he was just beginning his NBA career. Although the Lakers failed to recruit a superstar (some believed LaMarcus Aldridge would land in LA), their roster is much better than recent years Lakers teams. They now have a trio of really promising young players in D’Angelo Russel, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarksson. With a Kobe Bryant hungry for action after last seasons injuries, the Lakers addressed their very big problem at the frontcourt. They added Hibbert, the above mentioned “green, purple and gold” Brandon Bass and Tarik Black, who some predict to explode this season under the guidance of seasoned NBA players such as Hibbert, Bass, and Boozer.
Therefore, Lakers now have Kobe Bryant (the NBA #10 Best player of all time, according to NBA Scholar´s list of Top 10 NBA Players: https://nbascholar.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/the-art-of-nba-greatness-top-10-nba-players/) a trio of very talented youngsters (Russel, Randle and Clarksson) and experience + potential at the frontline: Hibbert, Boozer, Bass and Tarik Black. Sounds good, right? Ah wait… the NBA Scholar almost forgot to mention a minor detail: the Lou Williams & Nick Young scoring duo! Many reasons to be excited about next season for the Lakers nation. 2015-16 Lakers roster was very well constructed, with the right mix of explosive youth with valuable veterans. If Kobe Bryant manages to stay healthy most of the way, Lakers could be a serious problem for their opponents.
Celtics vs Lakers coming soon?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us (…)”, as Dickens wrote in his famous book entitled “A Tale of Two Cities”. For these loyal and passionate fans, it is time to get back to the best of times. After all, waiting many years for NBA Championships isn´t part of their DNA.
P.S. As a last note, the NBA Scholar would like to point out it´s been a week since this Blog took flight, forever changing the NBA Social Media Talk Landscape (and that might be an understatement 😉 ) It has been an amusing and interesting week. We hope you also enjoyed joining the “NBA Scholar Chapel” these last few days. Will the NBA Scholar hear your Hallelujah in the next months? He hopes so. In fact, he thinks that would be Great 😛