The Sixth Man (cont.)
The Boston Celtics. The Celtics joined the Lakers and Spurs as high-mileage teams whose postseason came to an early end. Is this the end of Boston's run?
The answer, probably, is yes. Miami's three stars haven't peaked as a group or individually (apart from Wade, who is 29), which makes the Heat even tougher rivals to overcome next season. At the same time, Miami or the young-and-improving Bulls are one injury away from creating hope for other teams -- much as the injury to Rajon Rondo created opportunities for the Heat to exploit this past week.
The Celtics are committed through next season to Kevin Garnett ($21.2 million at age 35), Ray Allen (who is expected to exercise his $10 million option at age 36) and Paul Pierce (who will be 34 next season at a salary of $15.3 million, plus an additional fully guaranteed year worth $16.8 million in 2012-13). The return of coach Doc Rivers, who just agreed to a five-year extension, enables Boston to invest in this group for another season while also adding younger legs to begin the transition for a rebuild around the 25-year-old Rondo.
The midseason arrival of Jeff Green signaled that long-term approach. There will continue to be back-and-forth arguments about the controversial move by Celtics president Danny Ainge to trade Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Green and backup center Nenad Krstic, especially since that exchange was based in part on the false hope that Shaquille O'Neal would be available.
Would the Celtics have beaten Miami without making that deal? I doubt it. They lacked scoring, which Perkins would not have been able to create; and without Green, they would have lacked backup minutes at small forward to apply against LeBron.
The killers for Boston were the losses of Tony Allen, who signed with Memphis as a free agent last summer, and Marquis Daniels, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in January. Their absences left Boston with no backups on the wing to help Allen and Pierce against Wade and James. Those holes, in turn, contributed to the rationale of dealing Perkins for Green. Ainge was trying to shift assets to fill a variety of needs, but more needs were created as Shaq and then Rondo were injured. As the series progressed, it became inevitable that the Celtics would go under against a younger, more athletic contender.
Now the goal is to find players to not only complement the three older stars next season but also to play roles in the future, either as teammates of Rondo or as movable assets. Green is a restricted free agent, and at 6-foot-9 he could be a sixth man along the lines of Lamar Odom -- not quite as dynamic, but nonetheless able to contribute on the perimeter and in the paint. When Rivers discussed Green's play during the postseason, it was from the perspective of an investment being made in him, as opposed to serving as a ready-made contributor. The Celtics expect him to learn from his postseason experiences and to be consistently aggressive next season.
Center Jermaine O'Neal will be back (due $6.2 million), and rookie Avery Bradley will be expected to contribute off the bench as a promising backcourt defender and shooter. Any long-term moves the Celtics make will be done with the goal of hastening their rebuild in 2012. It figures they won't be going all-in to win the championship next season if that hurts their opportunities to make a big move the following summer. They'd already embarked on that long-term approach when they dealt Perkins.
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
"People keep wondering how a team like ours will be able keep its edge during a long layoff. I don't need you or anyone else to answer that for me -- at 38 I've seen everything already."
-- J.K., Dallas
Jason Kidd, this postseason couldn't be shaping up better for you. You're getting the rest you need, and it's not as if you'll lose your edge. On the contrary, you've been able to have a minicamp week together in which all of your experienced players -- Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler and so on -- have been able to recognize the opportunity and focus on the goal. I like your chances better than ever.
"Why is anyone worried about a letdown after we beat Boston?"
-- L.J., Miami
LeBron James, there has been a lot of attention paid to your team's celebration after eliminating the Celtics. But anyone who has paid attention this season will realize that the Heat aren't likely to relax now, because you guys would only invite more criticism that you're a bunch of pretenders.
You've talked about how you like playing on the road. In this case, you get the best of both worlds -- you can go into a hostile environment as the underdog, even though you've been playing better than the Bulls this postseason. They have one star and you have two, and as much grief as Bosh has been hearing, he has been more productive this postseason than Boozer. I don't know how you're going to stop Rose, but he can't beat you by himself.
"Why am I taking so much grief for taking too many shots? We have a chance to reach the conference finals the way we're playing."
-- R.W., Oklahoma City
Russell Westbrook, the truth is that you shouldn't be shooting the ball more often than Kevin Durant. But a larger truth is that you're reverting to your strengths as a scorer under the pressure of the playoffs. It's going to be interesting to see the conclusions you reach when this postseason run is over, and how your game grows during the summer. Will your playmaking skills improve next season? You're always going to be a point guard who creates by attacking, and as your vision continues to improve and you're able to make plays for Durant and others, your ability to score will improve, too.
Best championship duos. If they happen to win another two rounds, where will James and Wade compare on this list? While each averaged at least 28 points across their second-round victory against Boston, they still have a long way to go before they'll make an impact historically. (This list focuses on the modern era that began with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.)
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen: Six championships
Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Five championships
Larry Bird and Kevin McHale: Three championships
Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant: Three championships
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili (or Tony Parker, depending on your tastes): Three championships
Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol: Two championships
Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars: Two championships
Stars recover from slow start, beat Ducks to tie up series
Blue Jackets rally from three-goal deficit in Game 4 to beat Penguins in overtime