The return of a rivalry


The return of a rivalry

Last night, I tweeted about a brief run-in I had with Pau Gasol at a local Starbucks.

Heres the tweet:

@rich_levine: Just ran into Pau Gasol at Starbucks and jokingly asked if he was apartment hunting. He hadn't heard the Rondo rumor, so it was pretty awkward from there.

Just for fun, heres the full story:

It was about 5:30 pm, and I was sitting at a table, working (aka playing Words with Friends) with my back to the door. All of sudden, I felt this enormous presence.

I eventually saw him, too. But I felt him first. From the second he walked in you could just sense that there was a giant in the room.

When I looked up, my initial reaction was: Damn, that guys huge.

One second later it was: Hey wait, that guys Pau Gasol!

He was there with a friend looked like a trainer and the two stood, speaking Spanish, as they waited in line to order. After they did, his buddy went to the bathroom, leaving Gasol to wait for his Raspberry Passion Tea Lemonade about two steps from my table. (Just kidding, but that would have been amazing)

Anyway, about five minutes before he walked in, I'd been reading about the ridiculous Pau-for-Rondo rumor. I figured he'd heard about it, too. So I thought I'd be friendly and crack a joke:

Rich: "You here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Excuse me?"

Rich:: "Are you here apartment hunting?"

Gasol: "Uhhh"

Rich: "Oh sorry, man. I'm just joking about that crazy Rondo rumor."

Gasol: "Umm, which one is that?"

Rich: "Oh, you didn't hear? They have you being traded for Rondo now Never stops, right?"

He finally lightened up and let out a smile

Gasol: "Haha. Oh yeah. There are a lot rumors. But no, I'm not apartment hunting."

I laughed, threw my coffee at him and told him to get out of Boston.

Nah, I wished him luck. And that was that.

But then something interesting happened.

Gasol didn't leave.

When the coffee came, he and his buddy took their drinks, grabbed a table and just sat there talking for about 30 minutes. Right in the middle of a Starbucks in the heart of Boston.

I guess this shouldn't be a big deal. Maybe it means we've grown as a society. But I couldn't help but think: Would Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Michael Cooper or Kurt Rambis ever have felt comfortable hanging out like this in a Boston coffee shop?

Would Gasol himself have felt this comfortable even as recently as last year?

No way. So as Gasol sat there in peace aside from this one jerk who cracked a joke about trade rumors there was only one thought on my mind:

"Man, we're LONG overdue for a CelticsLakers game."

In reality, tomorrow marks exactly one year since the last meeting between these rivals, but doesn't it feel so much longer than that?

After all, the last time these two played, Kendrick Perkins was Boston's starting center and Phil Jackson was the Lakers coach. On top of that, Lamar Odom was the clear Sixth Man of the Year, Brandon Bass was Glen Davis and Metta World Peace was Ron Artest.

When they last met, the Celtics were 38-13 and a half game up on Miami in the East. The Lakers were 36-16, and second to only the surging Spurs in the West.

They were both on top of the world, on top of their games and, we thought, headed for their third Finals match-up in four years.

But it never happened, and since then, so much has changed. First, they were both eliminated, rather handedly, in the second round of the playoffs. Then the lockout came and choked the life out of the entire league. After that, both teams spent the abridged training camp stuck in Chris Paul drama. Consequently, each began the shortened regular season in shambles.

There was a time not so long ago, when the Lakers were all we really worried about here in Boston. Likewise, the Celtics were the chief concern out in LA. But in the year since that last meeting and even more in the 20 months since they met in the Finals that has certainly changed. For one, because each team has found plenty of internal issues to keep them occupied. And second, because these days, neither the Celtics nor the Lakers are a team that others particularly worry about. In one year, in the eyes of many, the once respective conference favorites are now barely contenders.

As a result, the build up to this year's LakersCeltics game hasn't been quite as intense as we've grown accustomed to these last four years. Sure, the hate's still there, but it's not overflowing.

Not yet.

But here's what's so great about this rivalry:

Once the ball goes up tonight, none of that other stuff matters. It doesn't matter that Perk's gone or Phil's gone or that both teams are currently more worried about staying above .500 than raising another banner.

Once it's on, it's on. And all the ill will that's been built up over the last few years the last 30 years the last 50 years will come soaring back. Just like it never left.

Call me crazy, but after tonight, win or lose, something tells me that Pau Gasol won't be so comfortable in a Boston area Starbucks.

That is, unless he's already been traded for Rondo.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.