Lack of Chemistry Unites Bitter Rivals Lakers and Celtics
It was the late seventies. NBA conference finals were on tape delay and CBS Sports didn’t broadcast NBA Finals on live television. Several players throughout the league were caught up in cocaine scandals. The sport was less popular than the MLB, NFL and in some cities, even the NHL. Then two players changed the fortunes of the league forever. The Boston Celtics selected Larry Bird sixth overall in the 1978 NBA draft. The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Johnson first overall in 1979. The Bird/Magic rivalry became “must-see TV” and the league flourished like never before. Fast-forward to this season and now, the two storied franchises are floundering. Who’s to blame? LeBron James and Kyrie Irving–ironically ex-teammates on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown
This past off-season NBA fans waited with bated breath for LeBron James’ latest free-agent decision. Was LeBron chasing a ring and willing to sign with a team missing one last piece or did he want to help build a team into a contender? His choice eventually came down to the Philadelphia 76ers and the two LA teams, the Lakers and the Clippers. The Lakers’ new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelilnka won out and signed James to a four-year, 153.3 million contract.
The move made total sense. The Lakers added the best basketball player on the planet to their young core of Ball, Ingram, and Kuzma. But almost from day one, something was off in LaLa land. If the organization was committed to a young core, why did they sign veterans JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley? If the team wanted to compete for a championship this season, was Luke Walton the best choice for head coach? The results–the “Lake Show” has been plagued by injuries to veteran players and internal bickering.
LeBron Has Checked Out
The Lakers’ season started well enough. They were 20-14 after 34 games and solidly in playoff contention. LeBron James then suffered a groin injury and missed 17 games. With James on IR, The Lakers fel out of playoff contention. Since he’s returned to the court, James has played horribly on defense and pointed fingers at the inexperience of his teammates. Then the kicker. Right before the All-Star break, Anthony Davis requested a trade from the Pelicans. James spoke out on the news publicly stating:
“That would be amazing. That would be amazing, like, duh. [He] would be incredible.”The Big Lead
The statement isn’t controversial, but Davis and James share an agent. Plus, King James holds a lot of influence over Lakers executives. James’ public comments were a rebuke of the team’s young core and signaled those players were expendable. The Davis situation has divided the team even further. Not exactly a model in leadership.
The Celtics’ Depth Problem
Danny Ainge was called a genius just one year ago. Even after losing his two top players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to injuries, Boston pushed the Cavaliers to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown came out of nowhere to become significant contributors and starters. Rookie Jayson Tatum matured sooner than expected and head coach Brad Stevens made all the right moves. It was a magical season, so coming into this year, the Celtics were expected to be the class of the conference. The team could go 10 players deep and matchup with the Golden State Warriors athlete for athlete. Then the season started.
Irving and Hayward haven’t excelled playing on the court at the same time. Even worse, the Celtics have too many players at the same position. Four players–Hayward, Marcus Smart, Brown, and Tatum are competing for two spots on the floor. Rozier needs his minutes, but Irving averages more than 30 minutes a game. Fans have grown frustrated with the Celtics lack of dominance and have questioned whether the team is better without Irving on the floor. The constant speculation as to whether Kyrie will re-sign with the Celtics in the off-season has made the drama worse.
Social Media Sucks
This year’s All-Star weekend in Charlotte put the Irving/Celtics drama on the front page. In the video above, Irving is overheard discussing two max slots with Warriors pending free-agent Kevin Durant. This conversation came after the Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis and others to the Mavericks. The move cleared the team’s roster so they can pursue top-tier free agents in the off-season. Celtics fans were upset. Irving started lashing out at the media asking them to leave him alone so he could focus on playing basketball.
Leadership Isn’t Easy
Both James and Irving are symbols of what’s wrong with modern athletes in
James to the Lakers didn’t make basketball sense. The team’s supporting cast was too young and had no knockdown shooters to compliment LeBron’s game. The Lakers young players need the ball in their hands to be effective. But the prestige of signing in Los Angeles made business sense. James is now trying to re-shape the roster in his image before all the losing hurts his legacy.
Irving’s free agency will be a business decision too. He’s won a championship already. He thought he found greener pastures in Boston, but their fanbase demands loyalty and constant winning. The right basketball move would be to remain in Boston, become less ball-dominant and allow the Celtics’ depth thrive. Irving doesn’t seem to want to do that. He wants the most money possible and be exempt from criticism. Good luck finding a NBA franchise and city that offers both.