Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

15 Comments

  1. Gillsy says:

    The problem with the draft this year is that the two conferences are so vastly different. Even if Boston want to tank and get a sub .500 record which they already have they, could still make it into the playoffs which is sad, cause the Heat and Pacers are just going to hammer some of these teams. Where the Lakers could end up at .500 which in the past could allow you to sneak in the 8 and only end up 11th. The east is that bad at the moment that you are not quite sure if they are all tanking or just that bad. Its funny you will get a team in the east be flogged by a team below .500 like themselves, then the next night put a decent game on against a western conference team with twice as many wins.

  2. Pedro says:

    The draft system is plain wrong! It just forces bad teams to stay AS BAD AS THEY CAN so they can magically win the powerball and shift things in their favor. I ask: how’s that been working for teams like the Wizards, the Pistons, the Pelicans and so on? The Draft will not correct bad management.

    Personally I feel the draft should consider at least three possbible teams for each of the first rounders. Lemme explain with an example.

    At least 3 franchises should apeal for the first pick. These 3 should not be in the same division, and they would be selected randomly amongst all teams in that division. The only exception would be the first 4 seeds, who would not be elegible to pick amongst the top 10 prospects. That way, you prevent the top 4 teams of each conference to pick a high ranked prospect, and forces the bottom 4 and the bad teams to really compete as they are not garanteed a top pick, even if they tank.

  3. ben says:

    You unsuspectingly wrote beautiful example of everything that’s wrong in the NBA, Jeff: You get rewarded for losing.
    To even suggest Lakers should lose to get a high pick is INSANE. What about the fans? You’d be a fool to buy an overpriced ticket knowing the goal is to lose and finish with the worst record possible.

    And draft is not rocket science, man, we’ve got years and years of data to prove, Spurs aside, most teams and their GM’s are terrible at their job and they’re more likely to draft a bust than to find a gem.

  4. h-town fan says:

    lakers made a mistake by signing kobe hes not gunna wait for a draft pick to develop and he gunna treat whoever rookie he gets like howard. they should have put kobe in that kg commercial, its time to hang it up

  5. Redhawk says:

    A compelling idea that I heard on ESPN radio (I believe that is where I heard it) is to give the lottery picks to the worst of the best. That is, give the lottery picks to the team that barely misses the playoffs, 8th seed, or those that get knocked out in the first round. So all teams would be compelled to compete. The teams that are one piece away from being real contenders would be most likely to get a new star.

    Nevertheless, from my understanding, the idea of letting the worst teams get the first picks is to keep a level playing field so all the teams are somewhat competitive. This, in theory, keeps all games interesting and more apt to sell tickets.

    • Denholm says:

      that means though that bottom feeding teams, mostly the small market teams, with small fan bases (think charlotte, milwaukee, sacramento etc.) are forever stuck at the bottom and through no fault of their own, cant lure a star, and cant rebuild simply because of a lack of talent, i understand the point, I just dont think you should tamper with an already fragile system.

  6. okc2014 says:

    I kinda understand this article. It’s basically saying that if you accept the fact that you aren’t winning, focus on the future, including draft picks and good trades. It’s not advice for the players, but for the team managers, who plan and supposedly have a vision for their team. Although I don’t know what kind of vision they were seeing when they signed Kobe Bryant for that astronomical amount for 2 YEARS. Seriously?

  7. CeltsFan says:

    This is such a sad and distasteful thought. To ask competitors not to compete. And where is the consideration for fans?

    • allaroundballer says:

      It is what it is, there always be a grey area in any system. It sad but you cannot also give the top draft to a winning team or even a champ. However nba should do something if celtics start to flop themself because they’ve been on playoff seed. Man, this could create some stir

      • FallenLeaves says:

        @allaroundballer – You are correct. Noone’s asking to give the top draft to a winning team. But to purposefully fail or be less competitive for the sake of a high draft pick makes me sick to the stomach. Even strategically this does not automatically make you a contender next season.

  8. justsayin says:

    Appalling, cowardly thinking like this repels me – and the fact that it is only engendered by the rules in place calls into question the entire system. When it becomes “strategic” and the “smart thing” to not compete, the whole league and the fans suffer. Who wants to see a game no one wants to win? Who even wants to play in one?

    Maybe it’s time to stop treating players like property from the minute they go pro and do away with the draft. We’re not talking about doing away with contracts and salary caps here – so no unlimited bandwagons – just players forming bonds with the teams they want to make careers with and teams trying to build through success. I want to see more hometown heroes and fewer guys just playing out rookie deals so they can move on. If the system were working why are there still so many bad teams? (The answer: it creates no loyalty)

    Is the mini-game more important now than the real game? Doing away with this Powerball press event sounds like an idea that ought to be given a chance to work. It at least sounds like a more pressing issue than divisions.

  9. steppx says:

    this is profoundly stupid. First………..any decent GM knows that the draft is hardly a science. This draft there are, presumably, three pretty sure things. Parker, Wiggens and Randle. Lets remember where Paul George was drafted, and where Ginobelli was, and where bargnani was. Where did Faried go? Where did Thabeet go? Where did Kawhi Leonard go? do you know who went ahead of Leonard? Biyambo, Brandon Knight, Jan Vesely and derrick williams. Who went a pick AFTER leonard> nik Vucovic. The point being, when do journalists wake up and realize the point is to try and get toward the top half if possible. Last year #1 was anthony Bennett. So…..ainge knows he cant get the top three. If he goes 15th or 22nd its not important. Good guys will be there. You win by teaching how to win, not by teaching how to lose. If the rocket scientist who wrote this can point to a team that ever planned on losing and then followed up with a winning next few years…Id like to hear it. It is one thing to manage a roster, another to tank.

    • tox says:

      Agree! One example is the Wizards… they’re always on the lottery every year…

    • wqasdtyujnhm, says:

      As a Celtics fan I trust Danny Ainge. look at the past draft picks he made
      Tony allen,Delonte west, Al Jefferson, gerald green, RAJON RONDO, Glen Davis, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Vitor Faverani
      And none of those were higher than top 15 pick

      • Denholm says:

        good point, but with so much apparent transcendent talent in this draft, you have to understand the temptation to go for one of the top 10 picks, who knows, maybe the ping pong balls fall in bostons favor for once in the lottery’s entire history and we can be a powerhouse again.