stout-hearted warrior, should help solve the defense problem. As the three new
teammates huddled in Doc Rivers's office after the press conference, the Boston
coach was about to bring up the D word when Garnett beat him to it. "The
only way we're going to win anything is if we play defense," Garnett said.
Everyone agreed to make it a priority. The consensus around the league: Pierce
and Allen are inclined to either yield or commit a needless foul when driven
upon, but both have the ability to be terrific defenders if motivated.
That's where the
Big Ticket comes in. "I don't see the Celtics imploding because Garnett is
not only a superstar but a super glue guy as well," says Donnie Nelson, the
Dallas Mavericks' president of basketball operations. "That is extremely
rare in today's game. He's the ultimate team player." Says the Pistons'
Flip Saunders, who coached Garnett for 10 seasons in Minnesota, "I never
had anyone with as much passion as KG. Practice, shootaround, games--it didn't
matter. That has to be contagious."
The most glaring
deficiency of this remade Boston team, however, lies in the supporting cast. To
get the sweet-shooting Allen, Ainge had to give up forward Wally Szczerbiak,
guard Delonte West and the No. 5 pick; to get Garnett, he surrendered three
forwards (Al Jefferson, Gerald Green and Ryan Gomes), a center (Theo Ratliff),
a guard (Sebastian Telfair) and two first-round choices, making it the biggest
trade for one player since the Portland Trail Blazers sent six bodies to the
Houston Rockets for Scottie Pippen in 1999. (NBA mathematics are elusive, but
figure it this way: 1 Superstar = 5 Other Guys.) "The Celtics have three
scorers who can deliver at the end of the game," says Los Angeles Lakers
coach Phil Jackson. "But they need a rebounder-tough guy to aid Kevin
inside and a distributor to get the ball downcourt and into the hands of their
Those roles are
currently held by Kendrick Perkins, a 6' 10'', fourth-year center, and Rajon
Rondo, a 6' 1'', second-year point guard. Rivers knows how much pressure is now
on Rondo in particular. "The toughest thing for any young point guard is
how to get a team into its [offense] when the tempo slows down," says
Rivers, a former point guard. "He has to stay aggressive yet get others
their shots. Maybe Ray has scored 10 points in a row, and the tendency is to
think, Uh-oh, I better get KG or Paul some touches. No, no, no. We want Rajon
to come down and throw the ball to Ray again."
With the Celtics'
payroll now bloated into luxury-tax territory--Garnett, Pierce and Allen are
owed about $168 million through 2009-10, the last season the three are all
under contract--it will be tough for Ainge to make a meaningful pickup to fill
out his roster. At week's end, speculation centered on his trying to acquire a
point guard on the cheap, such as Rafer Alston of the Rockets or Tyronn Lue of
the Atlanta Hawks.
Still, in the weak
Eastern Conference--which James and the seriously deficient Cavaliers won in
'07--this threesome will make the Celtics a Finals contender. Offensively, they
could be as lethal as any team this side of the Phoenix Suns. "The first
thing I did after I knew KG was coming was sit down and go through the
playbook," says Rivers. "And after about two minutes I thought, Man,
every option suddenly looks pretty good."
Sizing up his new
competition in the East, New Jersey Nets coach Lawrence Frank puts it this way:
"Other players get motivated when something big happens with your
franchise. The Celtics have become the talk of the league. For everybody, that
ups the ante." Frank laughs nervously, then adds, "Maybe that's the
wrong choice of words these days."
Indeed, in the wake
of the news about former referee Tim Donaghy's being beholden to mob-tied
bookies over the last two seasons, the Garnett trade was just the salve the NBA
needed. Wild off-season optimism, after all, is part of what makes sports
great. So why not let Boston's parade planners take a preliminary look at
street maps? (The Big Dig will make this thing way more complicated than it was
back in '86.) Any route should wind past Faneuil Hall and the statue of Red
Auerbach, of course. It was the old cigar-puffer who created one dynasty by
snookering the St. Louis Hawks into giving up the draft pick used on Bill
Russell, then kept the C's relevant into the 1990s by snatching Bird in the '78
draft, when he still had a year left at Indiana State. Auerbach would no doubt
be proud of Ainge (and would wonder what was wrong with McHale), but he also
might offer this piece of advice: Along the way, many terrific players have to
sacrifice their games for the good of the whole.
NBAsuperstarus will do the sacrificing now?