COMMENTARY | It would have been hard to imagine on June 3, 2010, when the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics started what would become an epic seven-game series in the 2010 NBA Finals, that both teams would be projected to have rough seasons in 2013-2014.
Yes, the Celtics and Lakers were already two of the oldest in the NBA. Yes, both were likely to lose some of their key players within the next few seasons. But did anyone think that both teams would be in the position they are today?
The recent rise and fall of the two most successful and prestigious NBA franchises in history isn't a cautionary tale of how to avoid the inevitable decline that old age eventually brings to even the most prepared front offices; it's a display of the two blueprints utilized by the two best organizations in the NBA over the past 50 years and an explanation for the roster decisions made by both teams now in preparation for the future.
The 'Laker Way'
It's impossible to talk about the Lakers' 2013 offseason without mentioning the departure of superstar center Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets. Despite all the talk of the so-called "Dwightmare" in Los Angeles last season, it was clear that Lakers ownership and the front office planned on Howard staying in Southern California. The team would almost certainly not have traded the young Andrew Bynum in exchange for Howard if it had known for certain he would walk away only a year later.
And while many Lakers fans were relieved to see Howard go, a position that itself is debatable, the reasons for keeping him fit perfectly into the model the Los Angeles Lakers consistently employ to build great teams. It all starts with a successful draft pick, one star who will either be the first or second option on the team but always serves as a foundation upon which a championship team can be built. This role continues to be filled by the ageless Kobe Bryant, who is currently recovering from an Achilles tendon tear at a record pace.
The Lakers then primarily use their giant wallet, along with the allure of Hollywood Boulevard and the Southern California sunshine, to bring in at least one superstar through free agency or by a trade. If, for some reason, the one added superstar isn't enough or isn't working out, the Lakers quickly dump the player or add another star. In short, the "Laker Way" is to let the weather, the Hollywood stars sitting courtside, and the championship banners hanging in the rafters sell the team for them.
The only real team-building comes in the initial stages of development, when the Lakers look to find that first great player through the draft and when the team needs to find solid role players. The rest of the work is done by the coaching staff, which is nearly always composed of some of the league's most talented and highest paid coaches.
Following Kobe Bryant's injury and Dwight Howard's decision to leave Los Angeles, the Lakers could have employed a conventional approach to the 2013-2014 season, accepting that the team would likely not compete for a playoff spot and allowing the Lakers to get their hands on a valuable 2014 lottery pick. But losing, even for one season, is not the "Laker Way."
Instead, the team aggressively signed veteran center Chris Kaman and the offensively gifted, yet defensively unfocused Nick Young. Both guys are solid additions but neither is going to make the Lakers title contenders, even with a healthy Kobe Bryant. They are, however, likely going to be important starters for the 2014-2015 season when the team will make another championship push. The current strategy for the Lakers, which falls perfectly into the blueprint the team has always utilized to build championship squads, is to compete as much as possible now while also ensuring that cap space is freed up in the upcoming offseason so that the Lakers can snag a superstar from another organization.
Rumors are already flying that the team is interested in adding Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Danny Granger or Dirk Nowitzki, all of whom are set to be unrestricted free agents or have an early termination clause in a current contract.
The 'Celtic Way'
In complete contrast to the plan put in place by the Lakers, the Boston Celtics traded two of their biggest stars, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, for draft picks and expiring contracts while also letting star coach Doc Rivers walk away from Boston in return for another draft pick. Unlike the Lakers, who rely on free agency to build contenders, the Celtics have nearly always built teams from within the organization. Even when the team has added important players through trades, it is usually older veterans looking to win titles, not younger guys looking to sign big deals to stay in Boston.
This more conventional strategy of adding as many younger assets as possible to help rebuild within the organization is more a result of the fact that NBA free agents typically refuse to sign in Boston. The weather is lousy in the winter, the expectations are always extremely high, the sports media is a circus and any superstar on the team is inevitably stacked up to legends of the past like Larry Bird, Bob Cousy and Bill Russell -- names almost no one can actually live up to.
Additionally, if a player is actually willing to put himself through all of the scrutiny and the harshness of a New England winter, as well as the very high taxes, there are two teams in New York, a bigger and more glamorous city, that often have more to offer.
Knowing the difficulties traditionally experienced by Celtics teams in the past in free agency, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is focused on adding as many young players and assets for the draft as possible, a goal he has been extremely successful in fulfilling. The Celtics currently hold additional first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 from the Brooklyn Nets and a 2015 first-round pick from the Los Angeles Clippers. They also have three very promising young players under the age of 23 -- Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger -- as well All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, age 27, who could be re-signed to a maximum contract deal in the near future or dealt for more draft picks or young players.
Two very different strategies
Although each team's strategy for future success is radically different, both have produced significant results in the past. The Lakers have won more championships in the modern era than any other team by adding players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal and by paying big-name coaches like Pat Riley and Phil Jackson huge salaries, a strategy they plan on repeating over the 2013-2014 season and into the offseason. The Celtics, on the other hand, have relied on savvy front-office moves, drafting, player development and using young assets to trade for older veterans to establish championship-caliber squads.
The past may not always predict the future, but if it is any indication at all of what is to come, you should expect both the Lakers and Celtics to make championship runs within the next five years. And for all you doubters out there who think such a positive outlook is unlikely, remember that these teams have been competing at this level for 50 years with only a few droughts. There is a reason they deserve to be called two of the greatest organizations in sports history, and the behind-the-scenes moves being made right now only serve as further proof of that designation.
Don't agree with me? Tell me why I am wrong on Twitter @THATCelticsGuy.
Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
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