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Posted: Wednesday May 20, 2009 1:21PM; Updated: Wednesday May 20, 2009 1:55PM

Writers' roundtable (cont.)

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Assuming Kevin Garnett returns to his scowling, active self next season, the Celtics should again be among the East's elite.
AP

3. With Kevin Garnett headed for surgery and the potential loss of key free agents such as Glen Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe, has the Celtics' championship window closed?

Ian Thomsen: I don't think so, but two things need to happen. More than ever, the Celtics need to adopt the Spurs' approach of pacing through the regular season to keep their three veteran stars -- with Paul Pierce the youngest next season at 32 -- healthy going into the playoffs. It doesn't matter if they're the No. 2, 3 or 4 seed, the most important thing will be health and fresh legs.

Second, the Celtics' owners need to take stock. Next year they're committed to $56 million to their three stars, practically guaranteeing they'll be paying a luxury tax no matter what. Why squander that investment by refusing to make the moves needed to win another title? They boldly traded for Ray Allen and Garnett two years ago because they wanted to win championships, and I don't see them losing their nerve now. A lot of teams are going to be looking to give away talent this summer, and I can see the Celtics trying to exploit a couple of those situations to come back strong next season. If they don't re-sign their own free agents, the reason will be that they think they can do better elsewhere on the market -- and not because they're looking to recede from contention.

Jack McCallum: Absolutely, positively not, if -- and, granted, this is a big if -- Garnett's surgery goes OK. They will re-sign Davis and Powe (not sure about House), and the return of a healthy Garnett will recharge the Celtics. Now, are the Cavaliers with LeBron James better than an aging Celtics team? Yes. But should James choose to change addresses next summer, the Celts should have at least one more season near the top with the current nucleus.

Chris Mannix: Please. The most common reaction after a difficult defeat is to question the long-term potential of a team, but in this case the concern is entirely unwarranted. Boston had no business going seven games with the Magic, not with a two-man frontcourt rotation and a third "big" in Brian Scalabrine, who spent the second half of the regular season battling concussions.

The Celtics will be fine. Garnett's injury was maddening, but three months should be more than enough time for him to heal. With Garnett, Boston still has the most talented starting five in the NBA, a unit that should be better thanks to the larger roles Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo had to play late in the season. The bench will need to be revamped: February signee Mikki Moore proved to be useless, Davis may price himself out of Boston and Powe may not be healthy until the second half of next season. But with teams tightening their belts, there may be a lot of veterans on the market who will take a pay cut for a chance to win a ring. If the Celtics can add some quality depth, there is no reason they shouldn't be one of the favorites to win the NBA title next season.

Steve Aschburner: If Garnett's knee doesn't respond to surgery ... if two of the three free agents land elsewhere ... if Pierce or Allen suffers the sort of formidable injury that Garnett sustained ... then, yes, the Celtics probably are done and need to retool. But I see no good reason why Garnett can't recover from the lone significant injury, and surgery, of his career. Guys like Davis, Perkins and Rondo are better than they were in 2007-08. And Boston still has the "San Antonio mode" available to it, where it doesn't have to chase after the conference's No. 1 seed but can manage minutes instead, holding enough back in its Big Three for the postseason. I give them another year at least.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Closing, but not closed. The Celtics lost James Posey and P.J. Brown, two contributors to the title team, remained a factor and would still be playing with a healthy Garnett. So reserves can be replaced, and Boston remains an attractive destination for free agents. Besides, Davis and House could stay. Money won't be flying around this summer like past offseasons. The Celtics may not have to worry about getting outbid, the way the Hornets bagged Posey. Garnett plus Pierce plus Rondo plus Allen equals a quality club.

***

4. After Dwight Howard voiced his displeasure with coach Stan Van Gundy following a Game 5 loss in Boston, the Magic erased a 3-2 series deficit to reach the East finals. Awkward as it appeared, was it a necessary step for Howard to become the dominant big man Orlando needs him to be or the complaint of someone who doesn't understand the bigger picture?

Ian Thomsen: It worked out OK because the Magic won the series. But I don't remember hearing Tim Duncan complain about Gregg Popovich publicly. Boston's star trio didn't complain about Doc Rivers last year in the playoffs even while the Celtics were struggling, and Shaquille O'Neal (though he had plenty to say after the fact) didn't complain out loud about Phil Jackson and Pat Riley during his championship runs; he complained about his teammates forgetting to pass him the ball, but while winning titles he showed respect for the coach.

If Howard is going to be the leader of a championship team in Orlando, he needs to be on the same page with his coach. A golden rule in the NBA is that the best player and the coach have to be partners. A championship cannot be won otherwise. When Howard spoke out emotionally after that game, he damaged Van Gundy's relationship with the rest of the team and opened windows for other players to complain about the coach. How can Orlando win a championship that way? If Howard wants things to change, he needs to work out the issues in private with Van Gundy, or with management if he feels he can no longer work with Van Gundy. And then he needs to continue to take responsibility by developing his low-post moves and free-throw shooting, as Hakeem Olajuwon did, because right now Howard lacks the footwork skills to win by himself. The irony is that he needs his coach to structure an offense that creates scoring opportunities for him, because Howard is still too young to create those chances for himself.

Someday Howard is going to turn into a low-post monster who creates his own shot, draws the double team and passes out to teammates for open jumpers. But he isn't there yet. In the meantime, I feel very strongly that we won't hear him complain about his coach again.

Jack McCallum: It worked out well for the Magic, but I think it was more the latter. Howard is still trying to find the middle ground between boyhood and manhood, and that's no disgrace. Lots of players have to do that. He was humiliated and, more than anything, confused by the dearth of touches he got in Game 5. He is not a reliable offensive force, not a guy you can put on the line down the stretch. Perhaps Howard's explosion will be the moment in time that changes the course of the Magic, but, if that's the case, I think it was more accident than anything else.

Chris Mannix: I'm hesitant to be overly critical of a 23-year-old, because at that age I didn't have the weight of a franchise sitting on my shoulders. But my first reaction to Howard's outburst was that he needed to grow up and be more assertive on the court instead of complaining off of it. And he did that. Howard was much more aggressive in Game 6 and his hard cuts off pick-and-rolls set the tone early for the Magic in Game 7. Like with LeBron, I really believe we are only scratching the surface of Howard's potential. At some point the dominating power moves will be complemented by some finesse shots around the basket (or so Patrick Ewing would have us believe), and when they are, Howard could potentially become a Shaq-like unstoppable force. Maybe better.

Steve Aschburner: It might have been a good move psychologically, whether he knew it or not, for Howard to demand and, therefore, shoulder more responsibility for the Magic's attack. But publicly calling out his coaches or himself on the fly is less impressive to me than what Howard does this summer to enhance his offense. He needs to consistently hit 12-footers and groove his jump hook into something approaching automatic. Then he needs to plant himself at the free-throw line daily, pump in crowd noise and hire a bunch of balloon wagglers while he shoots several hundred foul shots.

Scott Howard-Cooper: Words have nothing to do with becoming a dominating big man. Whether he steps into that role on offense, since Howard is already there on defense, won't be known until next season. This isn't about a short-term reaction. Counting his touches and his shots against the Cavaliers in the East finals is understandable -- Howard made it an issue and the fallout should be charted. But the final games against Boston and the series against Cleveland are no trend about where the next 10 years are headed.

And I think Howard does understand the bigger picture. Getting what few big men the Celtics had in foul trouble would have been advantageous for the Magic. He went about it the wrong way by making it such a public debate in the middle of the playoffs, but he didn't say anything that was wrong. Just as it's not wrong to likewise increase the spotlight on whether Howard is doing enough to get more shots and whether he will always be a liability at the end of games because of problems at the line. That's a necessary step, too.

 
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