Supporting cast will be the key for star-laden Celtics
Posted: Tuesday July 31, 2007 1:52PM; Updated: Tuesday July 31, 2007 6:05PM
The NBA's Executive of the Year award isn't given out until mid-May, but barring an unexpected collapse, you can safely engrave Danny Ainge's name on it.
In a little more than a month, the oft-maligned Ainge has overhauled a young, developing franchise that finished with the second-worst record in the NBA last season. No longer is the fan base casting a longing eye toward the Bruins, because this is now a star-studded, veteran unit that is the prohibitive favorite to win the Eastern Conference.
Ainge peddled a risky draft pick (Jeff Green), a backup point guard (Delonte West) and an overpaid shooter with a questionable attitude (Wally Szczerbiak) for Ray Allen. Now Ainge has acquired arguably one of the 25 greatest players of all time in Kevin Garnett for a rising star (Al Jefferson), a talented swingman with a boatload of question marks (Gerald Green), a tweener (Ryan Gomes), a future E! True Hollywood Story (Sebastian Telfair), an expiring contract (Theo Ratliff) and two first-round picks.
In short, Ainge has made the Celtics viable again.
With Garnett in the fold, Boston will boast one of the most fearsome starting lineups in its storied history. The beauty of Boston's new troika is that, much like the former Bird-McHale-Parish threesome, the players have little in common on the floor.
Garnett will control the low block and man the baselines. Pierce never looks more comfortable than when he is slashing to the basket and getting to the free throw line. And Allen's balky ankles will get a break when he spends the majority of offensive sets camped out behind the three-point line. They won't cluster, they won't get in each other's way, and with each player in the tail end of his prime without an NBA Finals appearance to show for it, they won't be bickering over the basketball either.
Boston's revamped roster certainly has caught the attention of the rest of the conference.
"You have to give Boston a lot of credit," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "They now have three guys who have individually led their teams to conference finals. Ray Allen is probably the best shooter in the league, Pierce is a slasher and underrated defensively, and KG is great on both ends. He may not lead the league in blocked shots, but he affects as many shots as anyone. And these guys complement each other well."
Said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell: "They have three legitimate All-Stars now."
While the play of Boston's new Big Three will be crucial, how the supporting cast fits in will likely determine how far the Celtics go.
"All these guys will have to make small sacrifices for the price of winning," said Frank, who knows a little something about coaching superstars, having led a Jason Kidd-Kenyon Martin-Richard Jefferson unit and now guiding a Kidd-Jefferson-Vince Carter group.
"But it's not about the 'Big Three,' it's about the 'Big Team.' Here we had guys like Kerry Kittles and Todd MacCulloch playing important roles too."
Finding solid role players may turn out to be Boston's biggest problem. The Celtics need to fill out their roster after dealing five players for Garnett. Two of those spots will likely be filled by rookie second-round picks Gabe Pruitt and Glen Davis, but the Celtics will need to begin an exhaustive search for quality backups, specifically at center and point guard.
Veteran point guard Brevin Knight is still available, and center Dale Davis has indicated he would like to play another year. Neither player would command an exorbitant salary, and the allure of playing for a contender might be enough to sway them in Boston's direction.