Columnists, Sports

Indirect Kick: For Celtics, banner No. 18 closer than some may think

PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The Boston Celtics have slumped into a period of recession since the end of the Big Three era. Kevin Garnett is back in Minnesota, Paul Pierce is with the Los Angeles Clippers and Ray Allen is still a traitor. Rajon Rondo left town for Dallas then Sacramento. Jeff Green was drafted, left, came back and then left again. Kendrick Perkins is rotting in New Orleans, and Doc Rivers is kicking it with Pierce in Los Angeles.

The list of former Celtics players still in the NBA is astonishingly long. Following last year’s winter blowout sale, the Celtics did what every team in a rebuilding stage dreads. They made the playoffs. Players such as Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Avery Bradley stepped up for the Celtics. This year, the team returns such young talents along with an added boost of veteran presence.

Despite all the prognosticators of doom, the Celtics are back — and with a vengeance. They’ve tasted a small slice of the postseason, but a slice is not enough for the insatiable group of guys in green. They want the whole thing, and they know they can do it.

The Celtics have all the pieces of a championship-caliber team in place. Possibly the most underrated team in all of professional sports, Boston has 10 first-round draft picks on their roster. Add an additional five who were picked in the second round to that number, and you have what some consider a dream team.

What Boston has done is indicative of the same “moneyball” tactics used in baseball. The C’s have found a solid roster of players who don’t cost exorbitant amounts of money and who together can form a winning team.

The starting five for this season includes Bradley and Marcus Smart at guard, Crowder and David Lee at forward and Tyler Zeller in the middle. On the bench, players such as Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger, Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko and Amir Johnson are all viable options.

The balanced nature of this Celtics team speaks for itself. Looking at the roster and seeing no emerging star can be frightening, but I would rather have a team than just a couple good players anyway.

Looking back at the 2008 championship team, it is true that the Celtics had three stars. However, it was players such as Eddie House, James Posey, Sam Cassell and the venerable P.J. Brown who became heroic figures that season.

Not that the Celtics are anywhere near as skilled as they were in 2008, but there is certainly the potential to mimic that team’s success. In 2008, everyone played a crucial role in every game. That is exactly the type of team the Celtics have right now.

But how will they stack up against the rest of the NBA? Well, even though they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs last year, there was never a moment where any game was clearly lost. All four games were close, but Cleveland emerged victorious due to its experience and better talent.

But you know what’s funny? The Cavaliers traditionally don’t play as many players as the Celtics. As LeBron James and company continue to age, this could be a problem. LeBron, aside from being overrated, is not invincible. As the seasons go by, he grows weaker and weaker and is becoming more injury-prone by the year.

Here lies the strength of the Celtics. They are young, fresh and as long as they stay healthy, really good. The Celtics play in the worst division in the NBA. They’re joined by the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, whose combined win total is still an embarrassment. The Celtics’ only threats are the Brooklyn Nets, who Boston beat out last season, and the Toronto Raptors, who are the least intimidating team in the NBA.

If the Celtics win their division, which is easily possible, they will likely earn a top seed. The rest of the Eastern Conference isn’t that spectacular either. Not only could the Celtics venture deep into the playoffs within the next few years, but they could also make a run at an Eastern Conference crown.

So let’s say the Celtics do make the NBA Finals. Can they win? Regardless of who the opponent is, they absolutely could win. The Celtics played Golden State Warriors twice last season, losing a 114-111 decision away and a 106-101 result at home.

The point is, the Celtics can compete with any team in the NBA. As they get more experienced, they will need to do some rearranging at the TD Garden. Make room up there, because banner number 18 is not too far away.

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