LONGSHOTS: Run for the title looks in store for Celtics
by Dave Long
A lot of people got turned off by the NBA in the Pat Riley-induced “clutch, grab, maul and hold it until two seconds are left on the shot clock” era. But thankfully they play basketball again in the NBA with the best players in the world.
So I don’t know about you, but I am ready for the NBA season. Especially since the Celtics should be in the thick of things right up until the end if they stay healthy. And making it a season of even greater anticipation is that, given the age of the Big Three 2.0 edition, the window, as they say, may be closing on their title aspirations either this year or next, so it’s something to savor. Especially for those of us who watched the Cs be irrelevant for 15 years after the last Big Three hit the bricks.
And the year offers some real intrigue as well. For the first time in recent memory all five top teams made really big moves to shore themselves up and to compete with those made by the others in the Big Five, and that’s ratcheted up my sense of anticipation too.
So here’s a glimpse of what to keep an eye as the season got under way for the Cs in Cleveland vs. Lebron and the Cavs on Tuesday.
What to Wonder About:
Sheed Factor: The addition of Rasheed Wallace has pretty much been greeted with universal approval — though not by me. I agree: what he’s been through most of his career is EXACTLY what they needed last year — length, a shot-blocking presence and floor-stretching three-point range. BUT — will he bring that every night 35, or at least at playoff time? If yes, it’s a great signing, but I do know both Big Baby and Leon Powe outplayed Wallace almost every time they faced the Pistons the last two years when he looked uninterested. So he’ll to have to prove it to me.
The Rondo Situation: Earth to Danny: what’s going on with extending him? It needs to be done by Saturday, or he’s a restricted free agent next summer? Maybe they’re waiting to see what value the market sets for him then, as he successfully did with Big Baby this summer. Or maybe it’s wait and see over the attitude thing that went public at draft time in June. But since I think he’ll be their second most valuable player by year’s end and was their best in last year’s playoffs, it all makes me a bit nervous.
What to Worry About:
KG: How much of a toll will the knee injury and surgery take on the player who was a top five player in the league before he got hurt? Will it be just a rust thing like it was with Tom Brady to start, or if he’s not quite the same guy, will it be father time?
Injury Issues: Ray, KG, Paul Pierce and the aforementioned Wallace are up there in years. That spells injury issues. It’s just a fact of life that not only do you get more injuries, but they take longer to heal as well. Thank goodness Terry “better to be safe than sorry” Francona isn’t coaching this team, because he’d be playing them all 20 minutes a night. But Doc will have to watch the minutes too and fortunately, with more quality depth on hand, he can.
What’s to Like: There’s quite a bit.
Quality Depth: While I still mourn the loss of Leon, assuming Wallace is what most hope he is at playoff time — they are taller, better defensively below the foul line and have a little of James Posey’s three-point range back. Big Baby will be better too — so KG can rest more and foul trouble in big games isn’t as much of an issue. And I LOVE the Marquis Daniels signing, because it lets Eddie House be a two guard on offense and a one guard on D and because the 6’7” Daniels can pass, play point and then cover the two on the other end.
Salary Cap Maneuverability: The reason they got stuck with Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore last year at deadline time was their salary structure was so weighted to the Big Three they had no one else to throw in to even out the contracts. But with the expiring deals of Brian Scalabrine, Tony Allen and House, and (if it doesn’t quite work out) for Wallace or Daniels, they have around $15 million for balancing any deal. And while highly doubtful, there’s also Ray Allen’s expiring contract in case a mega deal surfaces.
The Rest of the League: In my big five are the Lakers, Spurs, Magic and Cavs. Here’s what they added.
L.A.: The defending champs added the menacing Ron Artest, who guards Paul Pierce better than anyone in the NBA — which will be important if they meet in the playoffs.
San Antonio: I always thought Richard Jefferson was a bit overrated, but he’s a nice fourth piece to add to their Big Three of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker. And his slashing will open up the three ball for Matt Bonner.
Orlando: I love Dwight Howard, who was Russell-like (Bill, not Byron) against the Cs in taking away the middle in the playoffs. As for Vince Carter, never been a huge fan and Hedo Turkoglu was a weirder match-up. But it moves Rashard Lewis to the 3 so they’ll rebound better.
Cavs: Lebron’s the NBA’s best player and with last year’s childish exit he’s got something to prove. But I don’t know about Shaq — who’ll clog the lane offensively and miss foul shots at the end of the game. But he gives them inside scoring and they’ll be better on D and the boards. So I guess it’s a plus.
The Next Five: Dallas — who won’t do much in the end because of the usual softness issues. Portland — who could be the breakout team, as their young talent’s growing up and this is the year Greg Oden puts it together. Houston — no Yao or Tracy McGrady, who it seems hasn’t played in five years, but I will take Luis Scola on my team any day. Denver — many think his team should make it a Top Six after the way they played last year after they got Chauncey Billups, but I’m not quite ready for that. Chicago — they lost Ben Gordon, but they get Luol Deng back and Joakim Noah — wins my first He’s A LOT Better Than You Think He Is award. What you saw last year in the playoffs was not a mirage.
Sorry To: Atlanta — athletic, but overrated — and Pheonix – where I love Steve Nash, but GM Steve Kerr has had one of the most mind-boggling If-It-Ain’t-Broke-Don’t-Fix-It tenures ever so they have issues.
That’s my take on what should be an exciting season for hoop heads. And given that the window is closing — it better be.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.