Houston, Los Angeles and Boston have a problem.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are two of the most storied franchises in NBA history. They've been the standard to which all other teams have been held for years.
And now, they're paying the price.
The funny thing (borderline problem) with dynasties is that change is often feared. If it's not wrong, why attempt to correct it?
But while messing with winning formulas has been deemed taboo, complacency is a hindrance in itself. What happens when a blueprint becomes outdated? What happens when that winning formula is no longer a recipe for success, but instead distress?
What happens then?
Boston and Los Angeles happen.
These two teams account for three of the last five NBA championships. In the last five years alone, the Lakers have made three finals appearances to the Celtics' two. That's incredible. But all good things come to an end. All dynasties eventually fall. These two dynasties just happened to falter at the same time.
We watched as both teams were manhandled by their respective opponents in the second round of the 2011 postseason.
When the Lakers fell in stride to a deep Dallas Mavericks team, and Phil Jackson crudely rode off into the sunset, the call for change began to surface.
But the Lakers ignored it. They were still riding the high that came with two consecutive championships, so there was no reason to panic.
Much of the same can be said about the Celtics. They lost in five games to the Miami Heat and suddenly, after two finals appearances in three years, Boston looked old. As such, the time had come for change.
Like the Lakers, however, the Celtics balked at such a notion. Surely their core of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo had another run left in them. Of course this team could still make a play for a championship.
As it turns out, the 2011-12 campaign only furthered theories that many had come to accept as fact.
Both teams attempted to stave off stretches of inconsistencies for the duration of the lockout-truncated season. Kobe Bryant was bruised, Allen was battered and, despite top-four finishes in each of their conferences, neither team was viewed as a major championship threat.
On cue, Los Angeles barely got by a Denver Nuggets team en route to a five-game second-round exit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. At that point, it had become clear that the Lakers were in trouble.
Much like the Celtics.
Sure, Boston came within one victory of yet another finals berth, but it had two opportunities to close out the Heat and failed. For the Celtics, change finally needed to take place as well.
The Lakers went out and snagged two perennial All-Stars in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to go along with a pair of understated veterans in Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks. The Celtics themselves bid adieu to Allen, replaced him with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry and latched onto Kevin Garnett for another three years.
All was officially well. Boston and Los Angeles were poised for dominance once again.
Except they weren't.
Despite what has been considered significant alterations in their dynamic, if the playoffs began today, neither the Celtics nor the Lakers would participate, thus marking the first time since 1994 that neither of them made the postseason.
Because the sweet scent of their dynasties now bears resemblance to the stench of an outdated schematic. Try as both teams might to cover it up, there's no denying that they're old, that their core is no longer in their prime. Even their version of "massive overhauls" consisted of them bringing in an array of seasoned vets (I'm looking at you, Steve Nash and Jason Terry).
Don't take my word for it, either. The Black Mamba himself (via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com) knows his Lakers are wrought with age:
You just saw an old damn team. I don't know how else to put it to you. We're just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud. I think individually we all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each and every game to have high level of energy. That's all that is.
Bryant understands that despite the changes, despite Los Angeles' attempt to hide it, the Lakers are falling victim to the natural regression that comes with age. He understands human nature dictates they suffer a fall from grace.
And Garnett offered up (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe) similar sentiments to characterize his Celtics:
Garnett is not convinced, which speaks to his concern, and uncertainty in new teammates.
“Paul said he was certain [about a run], I never said that,” Garnett said. “I never said I was certain. That’s what I’m telling you.”
When asked if the Celtics are competing as intensely as in the past, Garnett said, “I’m not going to get into all that. The only person I can control is myself, and everybody has got to look at themselves in the mirror. I’ve got to do better. I’ve got to find some way to make myself [better] and improve. That’s how I’ve got to look at it.”
But can the Celtics do better? Can the Lakers do better?
Both are considered powerhouses, but neither is Miami. The Heat aren't built around stars in their prime and a handful of aging veterans to complement them.
Instead, their success is predicated on numerous superstars over the age of 30. Howard and Rajon Rondo are valued commodities, both of whom are still in their prime, yet they aren't enough carry the weight of an entire franchise. If the age of super teams has taught us anything, it's that those days are long gone.
The Association is now dominated by more youthful and exuberant entities like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. Teams like the New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs have found success in spite of age, but it has taken a surplus of depth for both to make it so.
Boston and Los Angeles don't have that.
Is this to say that the Lakers and Celtics won't find success this season, that they ultimately won't make the playoffs?
Most definitely not.
Age, fatigue and all, these are still two very talented teams who have proven they can win and proven they can thrive in the face of adversity.
Only now, the adversity they face is the past itself.
The same past that has placed their collective bar so high.
The same past that suggested vicissitude was the enemy of success.
The same past that they still carry with them today, in the form of senescent superstars and antiquated expectations.
And the same past that will continue to saddle both the Lakers and the Celtics as they attempt to remain championship fixtures in spite of themselves.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 1, 2013.