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Boston Celtics

Celtic Pride?

Raise the 17th banner. Map out the parade rout. Carve a shamrock-shaped diamond for the championship rings.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 NBA champions, the Boston Celtics!”

The way the off-season has gone, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the Boston Celtics have somehow turned themselves from laughingstock to championship contenders overnight – and they didn’t even have to rely on ping-pong balls to do it.

When the C’s acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to join forces with resident Celtics superstar Paul Pierce, Boston – for all intents and purposes – now boasts of a formidable trio the likes of which haven’t been seen since the days of the Bird-McHale-Parish troika.

Beantown must be rejoicing.

They have one of the best shooters in the league in Ray Allen, one of the most underrated superstars in the league in Paul Pierce and one of the top 50 basketball players EVER in Kevin Garnett.

These three have what it takes to go all the way! Who cares about the rest of the roster, right?

Wrong.If you look at history as a precedent, you might recall a certain Houston Rockets team about a decade ago who fielded the exact same roster structure as this years Celtics. They had Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, three quality subs in Eddie Johnson, Kevin Willis and Mario Elie, and a bunch of cast-off nobodies rounding out that team.

That team had the make-up for one championship run. Or so it seemed.

Everything was going according to plan until they met the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals and that’s when their lack of depth came back and bit them on the ass. They may have had three Hall-of Famers that time, but they also had an unproven, rookie point guard in Matt Maloney. Regrettably for Maloney and the Rockets, he was matched with one John Stockton. Predictably, Stockton thoroughly destroyed Maloney and that spelled doom for the Rockets season.

We can use Maloney as the scapegoat for the demise of the Rockets season that year, but that is understating the obvious. The Rockets had no depth. Apart from Barkley, Drexler, and Olajuwon, along with the contributions of Willis, Elie, and Johnson, the team’s depth chart boasted of perennial also-rans in the forms of Matt Bullard, Sam Mack, Randy Livingston, Tracy Moore and Elmer Bennett (who?!).

So what do the ’97 Rockets have anything to do with the ’07 Celtics?

A lot more than you think.

The Celtics are going to face a similar problem this year. Outside of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce, their line-up is made up of Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Eddie House, Scott Pollard, “Big Baby” Davis, and Gabe Pruitt. Not exactly play-off material.

(Word from the grapevine is that the Celtics are courting Reggie Miller to come out of retirement to play for the Celtics. It’s a good fit for Reggie if he decides to come out of the TNT booth,  but adding a 42-year old Hall-of-Famer isn’t exactly my idea of bolstering their bench)

You can say that the Garnett-Allen-Pierce trio has a leg-up on the Olajuwon-Drexler-Barkley triumvirate because, by comparison, they’re younger than their Houston counterparts. But what Dream, Glide and Sir Charles fall short in age, they make up for in durability. At that point in their careers, they were three of the most durable players in the league. On the other hand, Pierce and Allen have had major injuries in their careers. With the kind of supporting cast they’re expecting to have, it would spell doom for the C’s if one of the Big Three takes up residence at the end of the bench in their suits.

But, there’s still is a silver lining for the Celtics – thin bench and potential injuries aside.

Unlike that ultra-tough Western Conference of ’97, this year’s Eastern Conference is insanely weak. So weak, in fact, that the Celtics have a legitimate chance to win the conference.

In the atrociously flimsy Atlantic Division, the Celtics’ Big Three have what it takes to win the division title. The Knicks shot themselves in the foot with the signing of Z-Bo, thereby creating a messy black hole in the frontcourt with Eddy Curry. The Sixers are in a clear rebuilding mode. The Nets are in a similar situation with Boston but the C’s Big Three trumps New Jersey’s any day. Only the Raptors seem to poise a threat on the Leprechauns for Atlantic Division supremacy.

Between Toronto and Boston, I’d probably give the nod to Boston, only because Doc Rivers can “out-coach” Sam Mitchell (take that for what its worth).

Winning the Atlantic should, in theory, pave an easier road for Boston in the play-offs. The worst they can do is land a third seed and doing so would mean that they avoid the top seed until the conference finals. And the way the East is stacked right now, it’s basically a free-for-all for conference superiority. Miami hasn’t addressed their “age” issue, Cleveland is still a “one-trick pony”, Chicago is still one scorer away from making serious noise, and Detroit is beginning to look like a shell of its former self. Boston, with its Big Three, has a chance to upend any of these teams, in the same way these teams have a chance of beating the Celtics. That’s how wide-open the East is.

Should the Celtics come on top and reach the NBA Finals, that’s where it becomes an entirely different story. That’s where it becomes ’97 Rockets redux. Inevitably, the Celtics thin bench is going to be their downfall.  Garnett, Allen, Pierce and a bunch of cast-offs might be good enough in the East. But in the West, they’d get slaughtered.

If I were a Celtics fan, there’s reason to be excited. The Boston Celtics, one of the most decorated franchises in all of professional sports, are relevant again.

But to start thinking about championship plans?

I wouldn’t go that far.

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