NBA Opinions With Malice – More Than A Feeling

6 12 2007

BostonFourth in a series exploring NBA franchises that find themselves either in a good position, a cross-roads, or are finding themselves in difficulty.
Today we’ll have a look-see at the Boston Celtics, a team rejuvenated by two big trades…

Swimming… but do they have the legs?

Boston. If there’s a franchise in the NBA that’s more storied than the Los Angeles Lakers, this is it. The history that surrounds this team is amazing, and no other franchise is more blogged than this one.
Danny Ainge… mastermind or fool?Of recent years, this once-proud franchise found itself languishing in the bottom of the East, and seemingly a destination that no player in their right mind would wish go… unless as an opponent. GM Danny Ainge turned into a laughing stock – except Celtics fans saw no humor in his actions, and cries for his dismissal rang throughout Massachusetts.
The 2006/07 season saw this team hit rock bottom – hitting a less than 30% win ratio, and ‘securing’ the worst record in the East. Only Memphis had a worse record in the NBA.
Verily, their level of play was such that a CBA team would be disgusted with the same performance.
But there was the draft, and surely Boston had ‘done enough’ to secure one of the top picks, after playing a season which called into question the sincerity with which the team played their games.
Fate seems to have a cruel sense of humor sometimes, and that came into play when lo & behold, the Celtics could only manage the 5th pick overall… the dreams of acquiring either Greg Oden or Kevin Durant faded into oblivion.
Further ignominy with both Shawn Marion & Kevin Garnett declaring that if traded to Boston, they would walk at the first opportunity.

But Fate is fickle, and cruel twisted to happy when the Seattle Supersonics traded to get he of ‘He Got Game’-fame, Ray Allen (and Glen Davis) for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and the number 5 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft (which ended up being Jeff Green). In one fell swoop, Boston went from being a punchline to a pretty decent team.
And yet Ainge wasn’t finished…
The New ‘Big 3′On July 31st Boston traded with Minnesota to acquire one of the best players in the game – Kevin Garnett. In a 7-for-1 deal (Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, Boston’s 2009 first-round draft pick [top 3 protected] and the 2009 first-round pick Minnesota had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak trade of 2006), Boston re-wrote expectations for not only their team, but for the Eastern Conference. The presence of Allen alongside Pierce now outweighed earlier misgivings Garnett had, and on the day he was traded, KG signed a three-year $60 million contract extension that meant he was in Boston for the next 5 years.
Game on.

Still, prior to the season’s start, critics (myself included) pointed to the lack of depth… the advancing years of the ‘Big 3’ (this incarnation, Pierce, Allen & Garnett)… would those three be able to cope with not always being the ‘main man’… and the fact that they’d be starting a 2nd year point guard, and a nobody at center. Added to this, they had traded away their future for success now. Trying to hitch a ride on having 3 superstars on the one team… but would it work?
Is that success now within reach?

Putting it home…Quite possibly. Boston have come out of the gates firing. After nearly 20 games, they lead the NBA with a 15-2 record, and some of the wins have been very impressive indeed. Good wins were had over a full-strength Washington, Golden State and the Lakers. The dismantling of the Knicks was absolute, and with any sensible owner would’ve meant the firing of Isiah Thomas. Garnett and Allen have lived up to the hype, sharing scoring duties with Paul Pierce. Garnett’s defensive prowess has meant that Kendrick Perkins has been more than serviceable, and Rajon Rondo has lifted – pretty much across the board he is a better player. Their only losses thus far have come against Cleveland when LeBron was having one of those nights, and the other to a top-tier Eastern team, the Orlando Magic. The Big Three obviously give Ainge peace of mind.

Let’s not hang the banners from the ceiling yet tho’… there are still concerns. Yes, Boston have looked damn impressive… but they are yet to play a team considered in the elite. December 19th brings them up against Detroit, a team who has long patrolled the top of the East, the end of December will see them against a Utah squad – who if fully healthy, can trouble anyone. But it’s not until January 31st, when they meet the Dallas Mavericks, then in February – when on the 10th San Antonio come to town, and on the 22nd when they head to Phoenix – that they will truly be submitted to a litmus test of ‘elite’ standards. Can they match it with the best of the West? They have the roster, but we’ll see.

The other concern is the amount of basketball the trio of Garnett, Allen & Pierce are playing. All are on the far side of 30, and they are averaging a lot of time on the hardwood. Garnett plays 36:30 a night, Pierce 37:42, and Allen a whopping 39:30 per game! When you consider the blow-outs that the Celtics have administered (they have won by 20+ 6 times out of 17 games), it’s hard to believe that they’ve accumulated that much playing time. Can those 6 legs hold out? We’ll see come next year. If not, and one of these 3 break down, then the limited depth Boston’s bench has will become an issue.

Danny Ainge sold his soul the future of the franchise – especially Al Jefferson – for success now. Boston have about a 3 year window to succeed within, post that their 3 superstars will simply be a little too old to compete with the rising stars like Howard & co. And for a time beyond that, the salaries that Garnett, Pierce & Allen will still command will make re-tooling the roster prohibitive.
Was it worth it?
Without a doubt, definitely a case of ‘Don’t Look Back’. I’m not convinced that they will grab the brass ring, but they will go close. In any case, Boston is again on top, and a more relevant Celtics franchise is not only good for Boston, but good for the NBA.

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6 12 2007
Celtics 24/7 » Blog Archive » Today’s Links 12/6

[…] C’s       Spinster Stories   Flash lose, Danny to visit        With Malice    More than a feeling       Secret Key to Nowhere   Falling for basketball for the first time     ESPN   Rookie […]

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