SI Vault
 
Hello, Boston
JACK MCCALLUM
August 13, 2007
The arrival of Kevin Garnett instantly revived a storied franchise. But many questions still need to be answered before the Celtics can raise banner number 17 to the rafters
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 13, 2007

Hello, Boston

The arrival of Kevin Garnett instantly revived a storied franchise. But many questions still need to be answered before the Celtics can raise banner number 17 to the rafters

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

Garnett, a 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 scorers."

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.

But which NBAsuperstarus will do the sacrificing now?

1 2