January 15, 2009
I have two confessions to make. First, I was a bigger Kevin Garnett fan before he was clapping his hands in point guard’s faces, sitting down for painfully forced conversations with Bill Russell and spouting canned “anything is possible” clichés at the top of his lungs. He may have been miserable during his last years in Minnesota, but we were in it together. Now he’s on his own ego island, a curious and disappointing development for a man that had been one of the most pathos worthy athletes in sports history.
Second, I was a bigger fan of the Boston Celtics two years ago before they were arrogantly strutting their championship stuff in arenas across the country. I had adopted the team of relatively unknown youngsters as my favorite to watch in the NBA. I felt like I was on the bandwagon, blog and all, before the rest of the basketball world had embraced a squad that was years away from serious title contention, but one that would absolutely get there. The Celts had youth, athleticism, personality and explosiveness at every position. Of all the teams in the NBA, Boston had the most sheer potential – it was coming out their ears, so much that Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge didn’t know what to do with it. The group was a hell of a lot of fun to watch and speculate about. They were fun to be a fan of.
And then Danny Ainge blew it up. After falling in love with that deep, promising lineup and seeing some of those major pieces thriving, both in Boston and elsewhere, I can’t help but wonder what could have been.
I also have two disclaimers. First, acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett was absolutely the right thing to do. In the NBA a bird in the hand is worth five in the bush. If Ainge had kept the core intact I don’t think the young kids had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a title in the next two or three years. It would have been a long-term project along the lines of the current Portland Trailblazers with no guarantees of success. When you have a legit shot at a title you take it, no questions asked. Rings are what this game is all about. Second, there’s an undeniable butterfly effect to take into account here. I acknowledge that we have no way of knowing what other moves would have been made, what contracts would have been signed and how drafts would have shaken down in the alternate universe where Ray Allen is still struggling futilely in Oklahoma and Kevin Garnett is still toiling away in the Twin Cities.
With all of that said, it’s not hard to see the Celtics sans KG and Jesus Shuttleworth being the most exciting young team in the East.
Breaking down the Celtics Bizarro World roster after the jump…
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Paul Pierce
SF: Jeff Green
PF: Al Jefferson
C: Kendrick Perkins
The roster would be stacked with skill from top to bottom, starting with the backcourt. ETB favorite Rajon “Big Hands” Rondo would be manning the point and running the break with some real horses, guys who can finish at every position. There’s no doubt that this team would put up more points, even if they gave up just as many more on the other end. It’s true that Rondo’s maturation would likely not have been as accelerated, but it’s hard not to see him still developing into one of the best two-way points in the league. He would still be playing alongside super stud Paul Pierce, who has proven that with proper motivation he can be a leader on both ends of the floor as well – we now know the guy is a winner.
Pierce is the Celts current SF, but I still think the pick sent to Seattle would have been Jeff Green for Boston. He would likely have come off the bench last season, but the Celtics would be starting the versatile Green this season, who has been thriving in Oklahoma City at both forward positions. In December he put up 18 points, 7 boards, 1.3 threes with nearly 1 block and 1 steal on a strong 49% FGs. The 6-9, 22-year-old out of Georgetown is a steady defender with the range on offense to stretch opposing defenses (he’s shooting nearly 40% from three-point land on the season) and has proven he can play a solid second or third fiddle.
Green’s ability to play well without the ball would be a necessary skill because he would be lined up alongside the best offensive power forward in the NBA, one Al Jefferson. No big man in the Association has finer low-post moves than Big Al, with the possible exception of the aging Tim Duncan. Kevin Garnett is the superior defender by leaps and bounds, but with the ball Jefferson dominates the low block, draws fouls, splits the double-team and takes charge of the offense down the stretch like KG never could. The offense would be running through Al Jeff and Pierce, and that duo would be formidable to say the least.
Down low the solid but unspectacular Kendrick Perkins would still be hitting the glass and staying behind to make up for his inexperienced teammates’ mistakes. He’s offensively challenged, but that makes Perk the ideal compliment to Jefferson down low. He would be providing his same unselfish and complimentary play to a lineup that would have ball-handling and scoring duties dominated by Rondo, Pierce, Green and Big Al.
Off the Bench:
PG: Delonte West, Sebastian Telfair
SG: Tony Allen
SF: Gerald Green, Wally Szczerbiak
PF: Ryan Gomes
C: Leon Powe
Assuming nobody was brought in, after the thoroughly mediocre Wally Szczerbiak the Celtics second unit would be severely lacking in veteran presence. They wouldn’t be short on offense or explosiveness, though. Delonte West has proven this season that he’s more than capable of starting at guard in the League, but Rivers never seemed to have the confidence in him that Cleveland has shown. No matter, West would be a fantastic utility guard off the bench, capable of handling the ball when necessary, manning up on D and providing an offensive spark – he’s currently averaging over 12 points, 3 boards and 3.5 assists with 1.8 threes and 1.5 steals on a steady 46% FGs and 83% FTs while knocking down over 40% of his three-point attempts. Perhaps more impressive than the emergence of Delonte, and certainly more improbable, has been Sebastian Telfair‘s play in Minnesota. The 23-year-old point has matured, developing into a quality pass-first backup point (even if he still can’t shoot the ball). He’s still not a great player, but Bassy has been better than I ever thought he would be.
On the wings the trio of Tony Allen, Gerald Green and Ryan Gomes would be providing a little bit of everything. This season Allen has shown some quality defense and put his scoring on the back burner, but this is still the guy who was a revelation filling in for the injured Pierce two seasons ago, averaging 20.8 points, 5.2 boards and 3.4 assists on 50+% FGs in that fateful January when he shredded his knee. Ryan Gomes is a young man who plays like a seasoned veteran and can do a little bit of everything: scoring, rebounding, defense, outside shooting, whatever the team needs. And of course, my favorite bust Gerald “Birthday Cake” Green could still be draining threes and flushing nasty dunks on the break. Granted, this team would be extremely thin up front in terms of defense, but if they still landed sparkplug Leon Powe Boston would also have energy and rebounding coming from their reserves.
No, Boston wouldn’t have won a title yet. They would still be must-see TV in my book though, and they would still be a playoff team out East. A starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins is nothing to sneeze at, especially with the likes of West, G. Green, Gomes, Allen, Powe, Telfair and Szczerbiak coming off the bench. With Boston looking more elderly and creaky by the day, the future of this franchise for 2010 and beyond would undoubtedly be brighter, that’s for sure.
It’s impossible to speculate exactly how the Celtics drafts and roster would have shaped in the last two seasons. Even if it had worked my way there’s no telling if Boston would have found any more success than they had before acquiring KG and Ray Ray – but as Jake said, isn’t it pretty to think so?