LOS ANGELES -- The players and coaches that made the Lakers-Celtics rivalry one of the most storied in sports history are nearly all gone now.
The only one left, on the court anyway, as the two teams met at Staples Center on Sunday was Byron Scott, whose disdain for the Boston Celtics as a Los Angeles Lakers player in the 1980s has carried over to his time as a Lakers coach.
“Probably not,” Scott said Sunday when asked if he could have coached the Celtics. “Seriously. Probably not, coached or played for them. I couldn’t be like Rick Fox and played for both.”
When they reminisce about great Lakers and Celtics games in history, Sunday’s game will be nothing more than a forgotten footnote. A momentary blip in the radar as both teams attempt to quickly rebuild into the championship contending teams again.
The only two that probably felt like Sunday’s game had any added significance was Scott and Danny Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations.
“It’s probably more of a rivalry between Danny and me than the guys in the locker room,” Scott said. “He’s in the front office sitting there probably saying if we don’t win another game, let’s beat them. The guys in the locker room probably don’t understand the history of the rivalry between these two franchises and that’s unfortunate. ... It’s the best rivalry in all of sports.”
The chances of the Lakers and Celtics ever rekindling the decade-long magic they had in the 1960s and 1980s are pretty slim in the current NBA. It’s more likely they could get together for a three-year reunion like they enjoyed from 2008 to 2010.
“Guys jump up and move around so much so often nowadays, Scott said. “They don’t have the same type of loyalty that we used to in those days with one organization.”
The one player who does is Kobe Bryant, who is going into the last year of his contract with the Lakers next season, which will give him an unprecedented 20 seasons with one team.
Bryant told the "Grantland Basketball Hour" on Sunday that he isn’t looking for a Derek Jeter-like farewell tour next season and isn’t even sure if next season will be his last. Scott this week even raised the possibility of Bryant playing a season or two past his current deal depending on how he looks.
No matter what Bryant decides to do after next season, he will play a big role in the Lakers’ plans at recruiting free agents this summer and getting them to believe that the Lakers are not far from becoming a contending team again if they came on board.
“I think Kobe still has that pull and it’s an attraction for guys,” Scott said. “I think this organization speaks for itself as far as what we’re all about and that’s an attraction in itself.”
The other aspect of Bryant’s pitch will have little to do with him and everything to do with the player he is pitching believing he can be the next face of the franchise. Bryant was adamant publicly and privately that Dwight Howard wasn’t worthy of having the Lakers’ torch passed to him and now it’s up to the Lakers to find a player Bryant can not only pass the torch to, but would be willing to accept it.
“I think that should be attractive to guys who want to accept that kind of role,” Scott said. “Having the torch passed to you is a big responsibility. There are not a whole lot of guys who want that. They want the money but they don’t want the responsibility. That’s a different story.”
If the story of the Lakers and Celtics will be different next season it will depend largely on how both teams do this offseason and next. Their current state of affairs was expected but if it continues much longer, it would not only be a surprise but bad for the league.
“I think the NBA would love to see these two franchises get back to where they used to be,” Scott said. “It was a great rivalry. I don’t think the guys in our locker room and the guys in Boston’s locker room understand how great a rivalry it was. I still look at them as a team we love to beat probably more than any other team in the league because of the rivalry we had with them in the '80s. It would be nice for both teams to get going in the right direction. We feel when this is all said and done with the plan that we have, we’re going in that direction and I think they feel the same way.”