Have We Seen the Last of the Celtics-Lakers Rivalry?

Apr 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) shoots over Boston Celtics
Apr 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant (24) shoots over Boston Celtics /

Will the historic Celtics-Lakers rivalry ever be restored?

With Kobe Bryant draining turnaround jumpers to the tune of “MVP! MVP!” and the Celtics offense being berated with jabs of “Boston Sucks! Boston Sucks!” over the course of Boston’s 107-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at the Staples Center, you would have thought that the animosity shared between the two sides had returned to late-2000s or mid-1980s level height.

However, despite the intensity that Bryant emblazoned in his valiant 34-point effort, bringing back memories of when Number 24 ravaged the Celtics and became the most potent rival of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, this was indeed his last showing in the historic rivalry. It leaves us to wonder whether the two foes will ever share an NBA Finals and return to the pinnacle of their coasts.

While the Celtics build towards the mindset of a contender in the Eastern Conference with a brilliant head coach in Brad Stevens, a confident, defensive-minded group of players, a plethora of upcoming draft picks, and salary cap room to sign a premier free agent in the upcoming summers, the Lakers are a team in disarray. Without the threat of an All-NBA First Team-caliber scorer and defender such as Bryant, it is difficult to envision Los Angeles catapulting themselves into contention anytime soon.

Head coach Byron Scott is on his way out after a horrendous two-year stint in which the franchise endured its most tumultuous down-swing in its storied history. The group is also currently without a leader to fix the losing ways of the locker room or a free agent draw to attract the likes of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook in coming free agency periods.

In fact, the team is second fiddle in the own city in which it has dominated throughout much of its tenure in California, with the 48-28 Clippers drawing the attention and celebrities. However, despite the dire state of the Lakers in the present day, let’s not close the door on a rivalry between Los Angeles and Boston in the near future.

Whereas the Brooklyn Nets have tarnished their future through a multitude of ill-advised trades and free agent signees, their California counterparts at the bottom of the NBA standings have placed themselves in an enviable spot in terms of rebuilding.

With lottery picks in each of the last two seasons, the Lakers have stockpiled multiple high-level talents in Julius Randle, a bruising power forward with a knack for garnering double-doubles who torched the Celtics for 20 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s matchup. In addition they drafted point guard D’Angelo Russell last year, who makes up for his lack of maturity with a surplus of scoring ability, having averaged 15.9 points per game in March.

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Both of these budding stars are under 22 years old, and could form a vaunted tandem for seasons to come should the Lakers resist the urge to ship Russell following his well-reported debacle with teammate Nick Young over the past week.

Furthermore, 2014 second-rounder Jordan Clarkson has morphed into a dangerous scorer and a bonafide starter out of the backcourt, putting up 26 points in a morale-boosting win over the Miami Heat last week. The Lakers will hold onto their 2016 first-rounder should it fall into the top three selections, giving them a shot at landing the highly-touted Ben Simmons out of LSU or Brandon Ingram from Duke, otherwise it goes to the Philadelphia 76ers.

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While Los Angeles might be at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 16-60 record, it might not be far-fetched to believe that they could rekindle their rivalry with the Celtics in a meaningful fashion in the coming years.