The skeptics, the doubters, the haters say the Celtics are a team of the past. Miami is the team to beat in the East. The Celtics are too old, too hobbled. They have too many egos, too many personal agendas. Assistant coach Tom Thibodeau left, and the defense won’t be the same. Especially with Shaq.
I say, they’re wrong. The Celtics are not a team of the past, but the team of the present. If you don’t believe me, I’ll even give you 10 reasons why the Celtics will win the ‘ship.
10. Miami not ready- I’m not stupid enough to believe that the Miami Heat will struggle this season. The Heat won 47 games last season, with Dwyane Wade and a cast of misfits. With the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, they should, and will, win at least 60 games.
Unfortunately for Miami, the regular season and the playoffs are two separate creatures. It appears Joel Anthony will be the Heat’s starting center, and Mario Chalmers the starting point guard. Superstars can win games by themselves in the regular season, but when the intensity turns up in the playoffs, superstars need some support. Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers are not equipped to provide that support.
Next season, with the addition of another mid-level exception player and a bi-annual exception player, the Miami Heat will be poised to win a ring for the king. Just not yet.
9. Improved bench- On paper, Shaq is the only addition to a bench that significantly underperformed last season. Eddie House was shipped off at the trade deadline due to poor shooting. Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels missed long stretches of the season with thumb injuries. After returning from his thumb injury, Daniels found his way into Doc Rivers’s kennel, in the cage next to mid-season addition Nate Robinson. Tony Allen, maligned for years by Celtics fans, was the only reliable bench player.
In-house improvement, however, will make this season’s second-unit a disruptive force. The addition of Shaq will give Davis the freedom to play the high-post, and roam the perimeter, where he is at his most productive. Coming into the season healthy and reinvigorated by Shaq’s presence, Davis will challenge for the sixth man of the year award. Nate Robinson, who earned Doc Rivers’s trust late in the playoffs, will have a full off-season and training camp to familiarize himself with the Celtics offensive and defensive concepts. From day one, Robinson will know his role: provide a scoring punch and defensive energy burst while Rondo rests. Similarly, Daniels will improve on last season’s letdown because he too will have a defined role. Last season, Daniels was asked to score, defend, and take care of the ball-handling duties. This season, Daniels will be Paul Pierce’s primary backup at small forward, leaving the ball-handling duties to Robinson. Freed from pretending to be a point guard, Daniels will recover the lost talent that led him to be so highly valued last off-season.
8. Kevin Garnett- Garnett is so important to this team’s success, not because of his on-court ability, but because of his leadership. Garnett is 100% committed and focused to the goal of winning a championship, and he demands the same out of every other player in the Celtics locker room. You can’t dog sprints, or miss a defensive assignment, with KG around. He’ll let you know about it, just ask Big Baby.
7. The Captain- Paul Pierce may not be as vocal, but he is every bit the leader that Garnett is. He has sacrificed more than any other Celtic. When Garnett and Ray Allen came aboard, Pierce not only bought in defensively and transformed himself into a stopper, but he gave up shots for the sake of the team. Pierce is not nearly the player he was in 2008, but he still has the charisma to be followed, and the compass to lead us home.
6. Upgraded frontline/ rebounding- In Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics were out-rebounded 53-40 by the Los Angeles Lakers. 23-8 on the offensive glass. For the season, the Celtics ranked 25th out of 30 teams in rebounding differential, being out-rebounded by 1.47 board per game. The case can be made that the Celtics didn’t win a championship because they were too weak up front. Danny Ainge seemed to think so, using his mid-level exception to sign Heat center Jermaine O’Neal, and cajoling Shaq into signing for the veteran’s minimum.
With the addition of the O’Neal’s, the Celtics have bolstered a weak front-court, turning it into a potential strength. Even with Kendrick Perkins sidelined, the Celtics rebounding numbers should drastically improve from last season.
5. Doc Rivers- Before Doc Rivers returned for another season on the Celtics bench, Boston was in turmoil. Ray Allen was a free agent, and Paul Pierce was opting out of his contract. The Big Three Era was in limbo. Then, Rivers re-signed, and the dominoes fell into place: Allen re-signed, Pierce re-upped for four years, and Shaq joined the gang. Pierce, Allen, and Shaq knew what it took me years to understand: Doc Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Not because of X’s and O’s, but because of his ability to manage egos and take 15 guys with different agendas and form a single, cohesive unit.
With Shaq, Big Baby, and Nate Robinson all on the same team, Rivers will have his hands full this season. It’s going to take a master psychologist and unquestioned leader to navigate the mine field that this season could become. Luckily, the Celtics are in the good hands of the Doctor.
4. Rajon Rondo- I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this is Rajon Rondo’s team now. Part of last season’s turbulence was caused by the The Big Three’s unwillingness to accept Rondo as the star that he has become. When the playoffs rolled around, however, Rondo was the break-out player and The Big Three realized they had been holding back their shining pupil all along. Now, with the go-ahead from The Big Three, Rondo is going to emerge as one of the best players in the NBA, and the Celtics go-to player.
3. Ubuntu- It’s been said, “the harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” For the 2011 Celtics I’d add, “the more you care about your teammates, the harder it is to quit on them.”
The Celtics biggest strength is their team chemistry, their togetherness. The team’s core has been through the wars, has survived the traps that can snag a team without warning. The returning Celtics KNOW they can rely on the man standing next to them. That’s the kind of strength it takes to win a ring.
2. Legacy- NFL running back Tony Dorsett once said, “To succeed you need to find something to hold onto, something to motivate you, something to inspire you.” The 2011 Boston Celtics are motivated by their individual legacies, as well as the legacy of the The Big Three-Era Celtics. Jermaine O’Neal wants to win his first championship. Rajon Rondo wants to stake his claim as the best point guard in the NBA with his second ring by the age of 25.
Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett have repeatedly said that the all-time greats have more than one ring. Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen want to be mentioned with the hallowed names of the NBA. Shaquille O’Neal is already mentioned among the league’s greatest, but he wants to match Kobe Bryant, ring for ring.
Aside from personal ambition, Boston wants to be known as the best team of their era. They want a rubber-match with the Los Angeles Lakers, and they want to prove that, when healthy, they are the better team.
1. Revenge- To lose any championship-game is heartbreaking. To lose a Game 7, to the Los Angeles Lakers, in LA, after leading by 13 midway through the third quarter is as devastating as it gets. The only redemptive factor is that pain of that magnitude can be converted into motivation. More than anything, the 2011 Boston Celtics are motivated by revenge. The memory of the Lakers celebrating last year’s NBA championship has haunted the team for months, and is an image that will not be forgotten on their championship quest. The Celtics will not let the pain go until it has delivered them a joy of equal or greater value. That pain, that memory can only be cleansed by raising banner 18.