By Carlos Delgado
The glory days of the Lakers seem like a long, long time ago and frankly, they don’t look like they’ll be returning anytime soon. But don’t think that the current 6 game losing streak and dropping 12 out of their last 13 games (including a 36 point beat down by the Clippers last Friday), the ejection of Nick Young against the Suns and subsequent suspension, and falling to a woeful 14th place in the Western conference finally signals rock bottom for the Lakers. On Friday, the Lakers are in Boston to play the Celtics.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. If there’s one team that can truly drive home the point of how far the Lakers have fallen, it’s their longtime rivals, the Celtics. Since 1959, the teams have met a total of 12 times in the NBA Finals, with Boston winning nine of the meetings. Combined they have won 33 titles, nearly half of all the championships in NBA history.
The most recent incarnation of the storied rivalry begins in 2008. The Celtics sign Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join Paul Pierce, forming “The Big Three” which immediately takes them from mediocre to elite. The Lakers make a mid-season trade for Pau Gasol, transforming them from a promising team into legitimate title contenders. LA would lose to Boston in 2008, but would exact revenge in 2010.
But since then, it’s been a steady decline for both franchises. The Celtics would dismantle the team in 2013, first by releasing coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers, then by trading longtime Celtic Captain Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, signaling that the Celtics era of rebuilding had begun in earnest.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have essentially been in a tailspin after being swept out of the 2011 playoffs and losing Coach Phil Jackson. They’ve had three coaching changes since then, including the shady midnight signing of Mike D’Antoni over Jackson. They would essentially rent Dwight Howard for the 2012-2013 season before losing him in free agency to the Houston Rockets. The most tragic loss, though, would be losing legendary owner Jerry Buss to cancer in 2013, leaving the team in the hands of his children, Jim and Jeannie Buss.
To make matters worse, injuries have absolutely decimated the Lakers this year. Kobe Bryant, barely recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon, fractured his knee and will be out for several more weeks. Steve Nash has yet to return from his back injury. Steve Blake isn’t playing, neither is Xavier Henry nor Jordan Farmar.
Yes, the Lakers are in the doldrums. But despite everything that has befallen the them recently, a loss to the Celtics would really cap the Lakers’ current swan dive, because there’s nothing like losing to your greatest rival to really drive home the point of how far you’ve sunk. Sure, the Lakers have more losses in the future. They most likely won’t make the playoffs for only the sixth time in franchise history. Kobe and Nash are nearing retirement, as their failing bodies prove. And with only four players signed on for next year, the future and identity of the team is in flux, to say the least.
And now, through sheer coincidence of the NBA schedule, right when the Lakers seem to be at their lowest, the Celtics show up to give them one last kick. It’s ironic, yet fitting, that it should be them. Unlike their epic meetings of the past, this game isn’t for title. In fact, it will most likely be forgotten as soon as it’s over. But it may also very well mark the end of an era and signal that, at least for now, the Lakers/Celtics rivalry has slipped into irrelevancy, leaving us to wonder when, and if, it will ever be reborn. Tip-off is at 4:30 pm.