A Christmas Carol: NBA Edition
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! One of my favorite holiday traditions is tuning in for the NBA Christmas Day games. The current landscape of the league has made this year one of the most competitive and entertaining in quite some time.
One thing I’ve particularly enjoyed is the fact that both the Los Angeles Lakers (24-6) and Boston Celtics (20-7) are ranked among the top tier teams this season. Let’s be real, the NBA is just a better and brighter place when these two historic franchises are at the forefront of success. With both the Lakers (1st) and Celtics (2nd) leading their conferences, it is entirely possible to consider a classic LA vs BOS Finals showdown in the near future.
In this article I’ll be examining the past, present, and future of these teams and how it all ties together in making their potential 13th matchup in the NBA Finals. In the spirit of Christmas, I’ll be breaking this down Charles Dickens style in what I call A Christmas Carol: NBA Edition. So get ready NBA fans, you are about to be visited by 3 ghosts....
The Ghost of Christmas Past
For the Lakers the past is really represented by the past of LeBron James. While he is undoubtedly one of the greatest players of all-time, he does have a history of turning his back on a roster that he feels doesn’t give him enough. While many players have spoken about what a truly great teammate/ leader the King is, there’s an unquestionable amount of pressure that comes with playing in the background of The Chosen One.
“Look at the triple-double (33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds per game, 10 assists per game) I averaged in the Finals. Clearly, I did my job. I’m good.”
-Lebron James comment after the 2017 NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors-
Simply said, if LeBron doesn’t get what he needs, he leaves. After the 2017 finals loss, Kyrie Irving left the Cleveland Cavaliers with the words “I simply can’t take it anymore.” While I believe a lot of the criticism towards LeBron is unwarranted, it’s clear that some guys just have trouble playing with him.
Looking back at his return to Cleveland in 2014 there is an extremely high number of roster changes on teams he’s been a part of. From 2014 until now, over 60 players have been traded away from rosters including James. I can think of a few guys in New Orleans right now who know exactly what I am talking about.
You can’t fault LeBron for wanting to surround himself with the best team possible, but that does put a lot of pressure on the Lakers front office. The Lakers have been very successful this year, but they aren’t perfect. It will be important to pay attention to what moves the Lakers make going forward to give James exactly what he needs to be successful. On a positive note, the James/Davis relationship seems to be going a lot better than the James/Irving one.
“The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.”
-Isiah Thomas remarking on the success of the Bad Boys Pistons teams of the 80’s/90’s-
The biggest issue for the Celtics these past couple of years can be summed up in one word. Chemistry. If the 2018-2019 season revealed anything about the Boston Celtics it was that the chemistry just wasn’t there.
“Even though we’re winning, it’s not fun. I don’t see the joy in the game. I watch all these other teams around the league and guys are up on the bench, they’re jumping on the court, they’re doing all of this other stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates’ success, they’re enjoying everything, and they’re playing together and they’re playing to win. And when I look at us, I just see a bunch of individuals.”
-Marcus Morris after a Celtics loss during the 2018-2019-
Morris followed with this statement by adding that he’s “never seen a team that’s not having fun, that’s not bonding well on the court, win a championship. If the goal is to win a championship, that has to change first.”
Going forward the Celtics have made some major roster changes going into this 2019-2020 season. The question will now be, have the Celtics figured out the secret?
What Isiah was getting at so many years ago was the belief that it’s not always about having the best players on the floor, it’s about having the right ones. The Celtics are trying to do exactly that. It’s very possible that having 4 Celtics players on the USA team this past summer has played a big part in developing a stronger connection going into the season.
Marcus Smart spoke to the importance of team chemistry as well in an interview this past summer. Smart asks, So if we as a team can’t go hang out outside of basketball, how are we supposed to get along on the court?” It’s clear that the Celtics are aware of their past issues and are actively making strides to fix them. As the season continues we’ll see exactly how that chemistry plays out and if they’ve finally found the right guys.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
As great as the Lakers have been thus far, they do seem to be struggling in one major area of the game. The 3 point line. While they are 2nd in the entire NBA for points in the paint, their efficiency beyond the arc is nothing to brag about. They are currently 24th in 3 pointers attempted and 23rd in 3 pointers made. All together they fall 18th in total 3 point percentage as a team. So far it doesn’t seem to be a glaring issue consider they are 1st in the West, but could be a major concern down the road considering the nature of 3 point dependency in the modern NBA.
We saw this issue come to life against their recent matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis and company have one of the best interior defenses in the league right now and it showed against the Lakers. The Bucks packed the paint and as a result the Lakers struggled to find a consistent rhythm on offense. It really made their whole offense seem rather basic.
In addition to the 3 point issues, the Lakers also have a lack of playmakers coming from the bench. LeBron seems to be as LeBronny as ever and Anthony Davis has been great, but can you rely solely on that to get you to a championship? They don’t rely have that ex-factor guy who can make things happen outside the dynamic duo. At some point the bench is going to have to step up and win games for you down the stretch. I’m not convinced the Lakers have that just yet.
The biggest issue for the Boston Celtics right now is their lack of experience. For those that love obscure stats, they are actually ranked as the least experienced team in the league at at an average of 2.73 seasons played. While it’s exciting to have so much young promising talent, youth doesn’t typically coincide with winning basketball games. Inexperience leads to failure as failure leads to growth. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team hit a slump towards the middle to tail end of the season as a result. You need a solid group of veterans to help prepare younger players when these games start getting tougher. This is where losing Al Horford will really take its toll.
Other than being a little on the young side, the Celtics also have some concern with their inside players. Offensively they show promise and have even better than expected, but defense is an entirely different story. While Boston is currently ranked 8th in total defense they drop all way down to 26th when it comes to defending the low post. It’s hard to imagine how this team will be able to manage players like Giannis and Embiid who completely dominate the paint.
For the sake of being optimistic the Celtics are ranked 6th in total offense. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both on the cusp becoming stars while Kemba Walker looks like everything Kyrie couldn’t be from a certain point of view. Who knows, maybe there’s a Cinderella Story coming to Boston.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
There’s one bright spot in the future of every NBA team right now and that’s the summer of 2021. This is arguably the most exciting free agency markets the NBA has ever seen. Here’s a list of notable free agents from NBA.com.
Notable Players Who Are Potential 2021 Free Agents
Aside from these stars there are a great deal of good basketball players heading into free agency in 2021 that could fill the gaps on any roster. Here’s a list from Spotrac showing the every player that could be a free agent. As of right now, it looks there could over 200 players up for grabs.
While there are many options for the Lakers and Celtics to take a look at, it’s hard to ignore that both teams could possibly lose their biggest stars. The Lakers stand to lose LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Celtics could be faced with saying farewell to Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum. What would this mean in rebuilding these teams?
Needless to say there are endless possibilities on what could happen in the summer of 2021. Can the Lakers keep James and Davis and continue carving the path to success they are currently on? Could the Celtics sign someone like Rudy Gobert to fill that void in the paint? Only time will tell.
I may not be able to predict exactly what will happen. What I can say for sure is that this year has been a pleasure to watch. I would love to see both the Celtics and the Lakers continue on the track they are on. I stand by the idea that the NBA is just better when these teams are on top.
Happy Holidays folks!
written by Evan Woicik @ EVRD