When a team misses a championship ring by six minutes, then significantly improves its depth (not to mention its insanity), NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury decides it isn’t a true contender.
Yet even in these earliest days there are the teams — Lakers, Heat, Magic, Mavericks, Spurs — that certainly will be contending in the championship mix and others — Timberwolves, Pistons, Raptors, Warriors — that just as surely will have representatives in Secaucus, N.J. for the 2011 Draft Lottery.
He just forgot the Boston Celtics, right? He couldn’t possibly think the Mavericks — the Mavericks! — are a contender but the Celtics aren’t. Nope, Blinebury didn’t forget. He considers the Celtics to be one of the “tightrope teams” — teams that will either be “performing breathtaking feats at a high level or going splat.”
How does a team that made a stirring playoff run last spring and won the Eastern Conference title get onto this list? Simply by growing a year older and then adding a 38-year-old center in Shaquille O’Neal. Age was the great leveler of the court for the Celtics all through the 2009-10 regular season as Kevin Garnett struggled to get back to full strength and without his defensive edge Boston lost its spark. With Miami’s significant upgrade and Orlando’s abundance of talent, can the aging Celtics afford to give up too much ground over the regular season and then turn on the playoff fireworks again? And with underappreciated Kendrick Perkins likely missing the first half of the season, there’s going to be a great deal of pressure on the aging Shaq. Can Ray Allen and Paul Pierce stay healthy? Can Rajon Rondo keep taking his game to new heights? We know the Celtics’ Big Three Plus One can cause havoc in the playoffs. But can they get there in one piece?
So let me get this straight: a team that made a stirring playoff run last spring and won the Eastern Conference title earned a spot on the “tightrope” list by growing a year older, but the Spurs — a team that didn’t make a stirring playoff run last spring, gets injured more often than Evel Knievel in his prime, and also added one year of age — made the contender list. Ah, that makes perfect sense.
Nothing to see here, folks. Just another NBA writer outdoing himself with sheer genius.