It’s rare to see both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics entering a low period at the same time, but the 2013-2014 NBA season will probably be the first time in 20 years when both teams fail to make the playoffs together.
Even though the Celtics have more NBA titles (17), it’s hard to argue about the greater overall success and consistency we’ve seen from the Lakers when you survey both team’s entire history. Since 1948, the Lakers have missed the playoffs only five times, and only once was there a period of consecutive seasons with no postseason basketball. That happened in the mid 70’s, after the Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain team fell apart.
Since then, they’ve missed the postseason only twice: In 1994, as the great team of the 1980’s finally fell to pieces, and in 2005, with Kobe Bryant still not enough at that point to carry the Lakers without Shaquille O’Neal.
The Celtics? They’ve had longer periods of missing the postseason, being excluded from the playoffs 15 times since the Lakers joined the NBA. The Celtics had a rough time in the second half of the 1990’s, and their rebuilding process from the retirements of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale took more than five years, making the postseason only once between 1994 and 2000.
It’s rare to see the two teams in such a low at the same time, although the Lakers and the Celtics did meet each other two times in three years in the NBA finals recently, with the sides splitting the titles. The Celtics have made the playoffs six consecutive times, but out of the team built around the Big Three, only Rajon Rondo is left, and he isn’t even healthy enough to start the season, or good enough to do something special with the group of players he has next to him.
Kobe Bryant is injured as well, but he should be ready to start the season for the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been on a slow decline since winning their second consecutive NBA title in 2010. Two conference semifinals, and then one big gamble on Dwight Howard and Steve Nash that backfired, and created a team that’s too expensive and too old to really expect anything from. They made the playoffs last season, barely. This year? It’ll probably be worse.
The differences this season will be the Lakers carrying shreds of their title years with Bryant and Pau Gasol, while the presence of Steve Nash adds certain expectations to this team, although he’s probably one of the most overpaid NBA players at this stage of his career. Rondo is the only remaining piece from the NBA Finals the Celtics reached in 2008 and 2010, and maybe even he won’t last too long on a losing team, with many willing to bet he’ll be traded before his contract his up. Rondo was actually with the Celtics the last time they didn’t make the postseason: The tanking season of 2007.