It has been an NBA season of many storylines. Whether that’s been the impressive play of the Chicago Bulls or the rise of former first-round pick Andrew Wiggins, the NBA has been incredible to watch this season. Along with these stories, many teams have struggled to succeed in a competitive year of strong teams, and none have been more talked about than the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. At just a 22-22 record, the Lakers are severely underperforming despite Lebron James continuing to show why he is still one of the best players in the league with colossal scoring numbers and overall incredible statistics. However, the Boston Celtics have just one more win than the Lakers at 23-22. Despite having a pair of superstars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics can’t seem to get it together and currently sit as the 10th seed in a powerful Eastern Conference. But which team is currently in a worse position? Which team will need to do more to overcome their hardships and gravitate back toward consistent success? The Daily Campus’ Stratton Stave and Evan Rodriguez look to answer this question on this week’s edition of the Point/Counterpoint.
Evan: I’m going to give it to you straight. If that has not been made clear already, these teams are works in progress. The Russell Westbrook experiment is not working, and if there’s not a completely different plan to utilize his game more effectively, the team can’t expect much more than a first-round exit at best. But, if there’s one team that tops the Lakers in utter mediocrity, it is the Boston Celtics. What can I say that has not been said before about Boston? For many people, their first thought is that the Celtics really can’t live up to expectations. While the team has gotten their record above a .500 winning percentage for the first time in 41 days, that doesn’t exactly say much when taking a look at the teams they have faced thus far. Other than an impressive win over the Chicago Bulls, the team’s win streak can be attributed to their lack of competition, consisting of below-average teams like the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers. What will happen when they play better teams like the Charlotte Hornets and the Miami Heat? They don’t look like they can put up a fight against the more formidable teams in the Eastern Conference. Another reason I say that the Celtics are in an even worse position than the Lakers is the conference they play in. The Eastern Conference is an absolute powerhouse compared to the Western Conference, with 11 teams sitting at a .500 win percentage or better. While the Lakers are barely at a .500 win percentage, they are still the No. 7 seed in the west and are merely a game behind the No. 6 seed. Oh, and they have Lebron James. That’s a player you can never count out, even with the team’s current status.
Stratton: Let’s be real here. Both teams know that they need to change something if they want to make it past the first round. But looking at the Celtics, you have to think that there is some sort of regression to the mean here. The Celtics’ centerpiece, Jayson Tatum, has been off all year. His field goal percentage is 3.2% lower than his career average and his three-point percentage is 6.0% lower. Although that seems small, it makes a big difference in the long run. There’s a lot of reason to believe that even against some of the tougher competition that the Celtics are set to play moving forward, Tatum will find his shooting stroke and go on a tear. Now, let’s pair that with Jaylen Brown, who is having a great season and is also still shooting a bit below what he has shown to be capable of. Pair a fixed Tatum-Brown duo with emerging center Robert Williams, who is having a career year, and suddenly things don’t look so bad for the Celtics. Now on the Lakers side, they’re in some serious trouble. Russell Westbrook, who the Lakers hoped would be a championship piece, has really turned out to be just average at best. Time and time again, Westbrook has proven to not be a winner and is content losing while stuffing the stat sheet. Why expect anything different this year? To go along with this, LeBron James could literally not play any better. There is nothing more anyone could expect of James and they’re still floating around .500 in borderline playoff contention. The Westbrook-LeBron duo will not work, since for either to be effective, they need to be ball-dominant. A trade could save their hopes, but this lineup is just not getting it done.
Evan: You’re right. The Lakers can easily make a trade to transform their team, and I believe it’s certainly easier for Los Angeles to make a trade for some help in saving their season than Boston. With Boston, you’re not looking to trade either Brown or Tatum, as they are the key parts of this team. But who can Brad Stevens trade for a quality piece with what he has on the roster without giving up too much? That’s a more challenging question than Los Angeles, who has more accessible paths to a quality trade. The Lakers can trade Talen Horton-Tucker and even the emerging Austin Reeves. Pair a piece like Horton-Tucker or Reeves with an additional veteran and a pick for an enticing trade package. Even without trades, the Celtics’ troubles stem from more than just Tatum’s and Brown’s issues. The team has a weak bench that can’t support the starting lineup. Ime Udoka hasn’t been able to generate much production from them, and if this team wants to win games, they’ll need to grab better pieces. Their shooting percentages haven’t been great either, as they rank bottom-20 in both three-point percentages and field-goal shooting in the league. It’s a team struggle and Tatum, Brown and Williams are not enough for the Celtics to make an impact. The Lakers can reorganize, make quality moves, and get back toward competition, especially after beating a 29-15 Utah Jazz team without Anthony Davis. Once Davis gets back into the lineup, they suddenly have another elite option and can get additional scoring that can help grab consistent wins in the Western Conference. Boston does not have a significant injury. Compared to the Lakers, things look pretty bad for Boston as they hope for a turnaround.
Stratton: Yes, Anthony Davis will come back. But as silly as this sounds, it really does not feel like he will help if Russell Westbrook is still in the lineup. Adding Davis will just insert another person who wants more touches. To save the season, a trade is a must, but are the Lakers really willing to make a big move? Right now, it looks like they are pinning the blame on head coach Frank Vogel, whose job has just been reported to be in serious jeopardy. The issue here is not Vogel, but with less than a month to make a trade, a coaching switch could be their only big move that they’re willing to make. They’ve almost put themselves in an impossible position, since they do have pieces that they could trade, but they’re now pinning the blame on an area that’s unrelated to the issue. A coach is only as good as the makeup of their roster and the Lakers are not championship-caliber. Since they just hired Ime Udoka last year, the Celtics are less likely to fire him. Although they have a weaker bench, if Tatum was actually contributing as he is capable of, the second unit is serviceable. The difference between the Celtics and Lakers right now is that the Lakers need a trade to salvage their season. The Celtics need their guys to regress to the mean. With that being said, neither team is in great shape, but the Celtics are better off.