LONGSHOTS: Will this three make it big in Boston?
by Dave Long
OK ó Iíve had a week to think about it and Iím warming to the blockbuster deal that made Kevin Garnett a Celtic. Itís not perfect and somebody, preferably Danny himself, please, please, please tell me theyíre not done yet. But as a certified basketball guy, who enjoys the Celtics in meaningful playoff games infinitely more than the Red Sox, Iíd be asking for a seat on Dr. Melfiís couch if I looked past the bright side.
I will say, though, I feel a little like Joe Hardy by jettisoning what I thought was going to eventually be a bright future for what probably will be a three-, maybe four-year run before going back to the black hole theyíve been in since Red Auerbach stopped running the team. But, with the exception of a few years when Antoine Walker teamed with Paul Pierce, basketballís been over by income tax day most of the last 15 years; Iíll take whatever excitement I can and worry about the future later.
After all Garnett is the best to guy to play for the Celtics since Larry Bird. Heís not quite Larry, but heís close. And yes, heís better than Kevin McHale. Itís actually the combination of the deals that brought Garnett and Ray Allen to town that I like. Alone they wouldnít have been worth the future. But with both here to team with Pierce and whoever else is left, Iím getting excited at the prospect of 2007-08. There, I said it.
However, itís not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, as euphoric fans seemed to think last week. So hereís a series of the things that ran through my mind as I thought about the pluses and minuses of this deal:
The Formula: Thereís a blueprint for building a championship-caliber team. In football, itís a quarterback who makes big plays and few mistakes, a defense that can shut people down and a kicker who is money when it counts. In baseball, itís three starters who can dominate at the top of their game and a lights-out closer. In basketball itís building around three stars like Chicago did with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin with first Horace Grant, then Dennis Rodman. San Antonio has with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. OK, the Lakers had just Shaq and Kobe, but the big fella was worth two by himself. With Garnett, Pierce and Allen that critical part is in place.
They Knew Danny Was Desperate: In the summer of 1983, Phoenix wanted to dump Dennis Johnson. At the same time the Celtics desperately needed someone to guard Andrew Toney and Magic Johnson. So Red Auerbach sent back up center Wic Wobey to get the leagueís premier defensive guard AND astonishingly the Sunsí first-round draft pick too. How did he do that, you ask? I donít know, but it shows thereís an art to deal-making. And while Danny got who he needed most, the other guys knew he needed to do something big to keep his job. So they kept asking for more and got it. If faced with the same situation I wonder if Red wouldnít have given up less in those deals. For instance, did the Garnett deal really hinge on getting Ryan Gomes? And, to a lesser extent, Delonte West with Seattle, who got a younger, two-time All-Star and the fifth pick, plus West for a still productive but 32-year-old guard?
Depth vs. Substance: Yes they have the, uhm, big three, but what happens if any miss a fair number of games as Pierce and Allen did last year? This team has no bench at the moment and, as Curt Schilling has demonstrated, there is a point in every career when injuries become a nagging reality. Thus, while theyíre always the x-factor, this team is very vulnerable to a big injury. And given age and recent history, itís a real possibility. Playing fewer minutes helps manage that, but whoís going to play when theyíre not in the game? Thatís why I wanted West and Gomes kept out of their deals. Their versatility made them perfect for a short bench as West plays both guard spots and Gomes the three and four.
Did Danny Flip-Flop on the Plan: He never said he was going with youth. And even if he did, so what? He blew up the team that went to the Conference Finals before he got there because he didnít think it was good enough to win it all and he was right. So he assembled assets to help make deals to put them in position to win ó which is what he did.
Can They Play Together: At no other time in NBA history, besides Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in L.A., have three players whoíve each scored as high as 26 points a game in a season ever been paired together. So itís a fair question. And itís not about being selfish. Itís just when youíre used to scoring and having the ball all the time, itís a big adjustment to learn another way to play. My guess is after a time theyíll be fine. Garnettís scoring will drop, because heís a solid passer and needed more defensively and on the boards. While some say Pierce is selfish, I disagree; heíll adjust nicely.
The Johnny Damon Factor: Do you know the New York Post is running a poll asking if the Yanks should trade Damon? Thatís a year removed from New Yorkís laughing at the Nation for being dumb enough to hand him over to their biggest rivals. It shows how quickly things change as players age. Allen is the one to keep an eye on. Even though he averaged 26 a game last year, he did have a major injury and very few top guards have maintained star-level productivity beyond 32. And if it happens to Garnett sooner than later, this deal will be a disaster.
How Good Will Big Al Be: Iím betting an eventual All-Star and a big-time inside scorer for six or seven years after Garnett is retired. Thus this better work.
What Could Derail It: Iíve mentioned a few but biggest is ownership refusing to incur a luxury tax hit. I know itís not my money, but they canít cheap out now, because they need a better bench.
How Will It Be Judged a Success: Sorry making the finals might be nice for someone else, but this is the Celtics. So, even with recent history, only one thing makes it a success. They have to win it all. Thatís especially if Jefferson blossoms, McHale finds a star with the sure to be lottery pick he got in the deal and Gerald Green turns into the Reggie Lewis-like scorer I think heíll become.
Will They Do That: I donít know ó but I canít wait to find out.
Dave Long is host of Home Team Saturday with Dave Long and Company, 10 a.m. to noon each Saturday morning on WGAM (1250 AM in Manchester and 900 AM in Nashua).