COMMENTARY | The Lakers and Celtics have a storied rivalry that spans decades. For both teams, major questions surrounding their immediate futures exist amid uncertainty and doubt about where they go next after a disappointing season.
With neither team any longer a participant in the postseason, it's time to explore which squad has the tougher road ahead based on several factors. Let's get right into it:
For the Lakers, projected 2013-14 starters Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace and Steve Nash are all north of age 30. Given the nature of Bryant's Achilles' injury, that doesn't bode well for the purple-and-gold to improve their struggling defense, which was clearly their biggest issue. During the 2012-13 regular season, they gave up 101.1 points per game, ranking 22nd in the NBA in that category.
The Celtics have similar issues. Their two statistical best players from last season were Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who are 36 and 35 years old. Jeff Green had a fantastic year, but the C's needed every bit of his production due to the season-ending ACL injury to Rajon Rondo.
So what do Bryant, Gasol, Garnett and Pierce each have in common?
All four stars have their teams in proverbial shackles with respect to their contracts. Garnett and Pierce will account for just over $27 million of the Celtics' cap hit in 2013-14. Gasol and Bryant, however, will account for a whopping $49 million next season with their two salaries alone. That means that both squads have little flexibility to add young talent and are somewhat stuck with what they've got.
The silver lining for L.A. is that they have the most tradable piece among the four stars in Gasol, who's relatively young age of 33 at the start of next season with an expiring deal. It also stands to reason that age wouldn't have as negative of an impact on his game due to his style of play below the rim.
Who's got it worse? Celtics
Rondo is the future of the Celtics, and Bryant is the now for Los Angeles. Both are their team's respective leaders who will be coming off significant injuries in 2012-13. Speed is Rondo's game, and he relies on quickness and the ability to change direction in order to be at his best. At age 27, he will enter the prime of his career and should be poised to play at a high level once he recovers -- his age a factor in helping him return quicker.
Bryant, on the other hand, will turn 35 this summer, and the Achilles' rupture is the worst of many injuries he's suffered over the course of his career. Even he has some doubt as to how he'll come back. But one thing about Bryant is that he's one of the most motivated athletes ever, and counting him out would be foolish.
Still, Rondo, because of his age, is in the best position to play at a high level before Bryant can, which means that Boston's leader will be ready to make an impact first.
Who's got it worse?: Lakers
The Lakers are all-in with Dwight Howard and banking on the fact that he will re-sign with Los Angeles and be healthy enough to return to dominant form. With so many people counting him out after a rough season as not the same player, he figures to have a lot to prove. Smart money says that's going to be in Los Angeles as a member of the Lakers, despite reports that he's looking elsewhere. But considering the player involved, anything can happen.
Boston doesn't have any key free agents poised to leave as only Chris Wilcox and D.J. White are without contracts. But like the Lakers, the C's are limited in who they can bring in due to luxury tax issues. Wilcox is a serviceable big man who can add depth at an already-thin position for the Celtics.
Howard, should he choose to play elsewhere, would free up a fair amount of cap space for the Lakers, but still not enough to make a real impact given their other salaries. Re-signing him is likely, though, and that makes the Lakers the team with best set of circumstances in free agency.
Who's got it worse?: Celtics
The Celtics and the Lakers each hold just one pick in the 2013 draft. The Lakers have the No. 48 selection in the second round after trading away their first-rounder in the Nash sign-and-trade. The Celtics hold the No. 16 overall pick.
Both squads have reportedly looked to move up in the draft to acquire some young talent that could make an immediate impact. Given this year's relatively weak draft class, there's not a lot of that to go around. The Lakers would likely have to move a player like Gasol to be able to package with their second-rounder to move up and snag a player they think could help them right away.
If they did make such a move, it would be an athletic wing player the Lakers would most likely covet. Boston may try to sneak into the top-ten, and has already met with Victor Oladipo and Kelly Olynyk. Both are projected to go early and be lottery picks.
That means that each team only has one shot to make this year's draft count. With both in a "win now" mode, it's hard to foresee any major dismantling taking place in order to secure a better pick, but that could be the case.
Who's got it worse?: Lakers
Both the Lakers and the Celtics are in the middle of a significant transition. Interestingly, they each have to contend with how they are going to attack the next few years based on their biggest attractions being in the twilight of their careers. They have the major question marks above, and also need to figure out who they want to be next.
The good news for both is that they are two of the most prestigious franchises in all of sports, and good players will always want to play with them. Both organizations have capable management who ultimately understand what it takes to win titles.
But beyond the championship pedigree, let's think in the short-term here.
The Lakers hired a head coach in Mike D'Antoni who runs a system that contradicts what his aging personnel can do. It was a clear conflict early on, but he made key adjustments down the stretch that allowed Los Angeles to succeed as they captured the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference against all odds. If he continues to adjust, then the Lakers will have the advantage of a full training camp and offseason to adapt to their new style. Still, there's a question as to how Bryant and potentially Howard will mesh with one another should they be reunited next season.
The bottom line is the Lakers gave D'Antoni a vote of confidence, like it or not. It's not fair to place the Lakers' season woes squarely on his shoulders as the lack of athleticism was the most glaring issue. He was also thrust into a mess of a situation after taking over for the ousted Mike Brown.
Boston has Rondo, and as the man with the reigns, he will guide their team. They also have continuity with Doc Rivers entering his 10th season on the sidelines. That means that they'll have the potential to start quicker than LA can given the fact that both will be back.
Bryant and D'Antoni will also return, but will Howard? Also, it's unknown what kind of player Bryant will be once he does lace his sneakers up again.
Who's got it worse? Lakers
A caveat here is that only the offseason is up for discussion, not the team's prospects for next year. That notion is completely up in the air based on what happens this summer.
The Lakers have the greatest moveable asset in Gasol, who could be moved to acquire a pick in the upcoming draft. If they make such a move, it will signify that they are beginning to transition away from the championship-claiber team they felt they assembled last year, effectively admitting failure.
The Celtics could also go a number of ways, their most feasible option is also the most boring one -- to work with what they've got and stay relatively quiet until the opening tipoff next year.
So who's in worse shape overall? It's a toss-up at this point, and it will be up to the front offices to pull their team from the depths of uncertainty. There are too many variables and moving parts to determine a clear-cut winner/loser.
For hoops fans in Boston and Los Angeles, there's always something to look forward to.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
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