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L.A. Lakers, Boston Celtics: Which Team Makes It Back to the NBA Finals First?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IMay 28, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15:  Tony Allen #42 of the Boston Celtics lays on the ball as Kevin Garnett #5 reacts as Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on in the fourth quarter of Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The 2011 NBA Finals will not include either the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers, and as the rest of the league rejoices at the thought of a Finals series that doesn't involve the NBA's most successful franchises, fans of each team are left to wonder how long will it take to return to the top.

The Celtics played a stronger conference semifinals series than the Lakers but still fell in five games to the Miami Heat, while the Lakers failed to show up at all against the Dallas Mavericks and were swept in four games.

The journey back to the top of their respective conferences will be a difficult task for the Lakers and the Celtics, but which legendary franchise has the best shot at getting there first?

Boston managed to win one more postseason game than the Lakers, but at first glance, it appears that their chances of returning to the NBA Finals are slim unless major roster upgrades are made.

The Celtics were roundly criticized for their decision to trade center Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder at midseason, and based on the manner of their playoff exit, the criticism was well warranted.

Without a true post defensive presence the Celtics were routinely challenged in the paint by the younger and more athletic Miami Heat, and Jermaine O'Neal and Nenad Krstic proved to be less than worthy substitutes for Perkins.

Perkins was not a great player in terms of numbers, but the Celtics were unable to replace the toughness and edge he provided, and the Miami Heat exposed that flaw.

Jeff Green didn't play horribly in his brief time as a Celtic, but he really didn't seem to fit all that well either, and as a result, Boston's rebuilding project may begin with him.

If the Celtics choose to pursue a high profile free agent such as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, Green could serve as a suitable starting point for what would surely be a multi-player deal.

An infusion of youth at a premier position would likely inject new energy into the tired, weary legs of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, as well as giving the Celtics another young elite talent to pair with point guard Rajon Rondo.

The Lakers have roster issues of their own to work out, and even though their core group of players may be slightly better than the Celtics, the decision to hire Mike Brown may give Boston more of an advantage as far as reaching the Finals sooner.

The Celtics decision to extend the contract of head coach gives Boston a luxury that the Lakers cannot boast of in 2011-12.

One thing that never can be underestimated is the importance of coaching continuity, and in hiring Brown not only does Los Angeles buck that concept, but they are also faced with the challenge of adapting to a new system.

Most Lakers fans assumed that assistant Brian Shaw would inherit the head coaching job from the retiring Phil Jackson, but the franchise's move seems to be a step away from Jackson's philosophy and style.

It's not impossible to think that the Lakers could assimilate into Brown's way of thinking in a timely manner, but there are also the questions surrounding the team's roster that must be answered.

Point guards Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and forward Ron Artest are the most likely players who will not be Lakers next season, but management must also decide if Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom will still be core members of the team.

The only Laker who is certain to be safe for next season is Kobe Bryant, and with so many questions to be resolved in addition to a coaching change, a Finals trip next season may not be realistic.

Both the Lakers and Celtics have plenty of work to do before either team can return to the NBA Finals, and with the emergence of younger and similarily talented teams, it will be an uphill struggle all the way.

But Boston may have placed themselves in a better position to coax one more Finals run out of their aging core by bringing Rivers back, and although the Lakers will probably adapt to Brown's system, can they do it quick enough?

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