Training Camp is a fun time. Every team has a sense of optimism and excitement about the upcoming season. Even Michael Beasley feels that his T’Wolves are a legitimate title contender. And more power to him. The Timberwolves could really use some positive thinking after doing nothing this offseason to make their team markedly better.
The Celtics, on the other hand, did do some things during the offseason; some big things. With rebounding being a giant concern, the Celtics upgraded their frontcourt by replacing Rasheed Wallace and Shelden Williams with Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal, respectively.
Last season, Rasheed Wallace looked up and down the Celtics’ roster and saw a 72 win team. Again, positive thinking is always a good thing but that comment proved to be borderline insanity. At the very same time Wallace was making his bold and ultimately inaccurate predictions, Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge were describing Wallace as needing to “play himself into shape“. As evident from his Game 7 Finals performance, Rasheed never really did play himself into shape and severely hurt his back trying to leave everything he had of his 15 year career on the floor that night.
Coupled with Wallace’s physique was Glen Davis’ broken thumb and the questionable decision-making that caused the mishap. These story lines plagued the beginning of last season and threatened to derail the Celtics title hopes really before they began.
This year, the cast of characters are different and so are the story lines. After proving to the world that the main components of this Celtics team had enough left in the tank to come within six minutes and four points of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, the story lines are predictably upbeat.
Paul Pierce went so far as to say this was the most talented team for which he had ever played:
“I just feel,” Pierce said, “like this is one of our most talented teams from top to bottom, more talented a team that I’ve been on since I’ve been a Celtic.” (Worcester Telegram)
This is not all that unfathomable. Two years ago, the Big Three Era was ushered into Boston with similar fanfare. No one knew what to expect from this newly constructed triumvirate of basketball fortitude. Three years and two Finals appearances later, there may be an even bigger, more confident air about the start of this season than in 2007.
If this is the most talented team Pierce has played for as a Celtic, then that means this team is just as/ if not more equipped to win the title this year than the one who did in 2008. While the Celtics are still without a replacement for one of their key cogs of the 2007-2008 team (James Posey), the Celtics have upgraded their roster in nearly every aspect when compared with the 2007 team.
The Celtics have upgraded the point guard position from a young Rajon Rondo, a limited Eddie House, and an ineffective Sam Cassell, to a more experienced Rondo, a more versatile Nate Robinson, and a solid rotation player in Delonte West.
Their rookies are better with the stud-in-waiting Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody being a vast improvement on the never-used Gabe Pruitt and the still-young Glen Davis. The end of the bench is better where former flashes Von Wafer and Delonte West replace the injured Scot Pollard, Tony Allen, and fan-favorite Brian Scalabine.
The Celtics’ frontcourt is also much improved, swapping a solid P.J. Brown and Leon Powe, with former superstars Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal.
On paper, it looks like Pierce is right, but will this team live up to the 2007-2008 team’s accomplishments? Or will they go the route of last years team, tank the regular season, and put it all together for the playoffs?
The 2007-2008 team did two very impressive things in the NBA world. They won the NBA Championship and they won 66 games.
Given the relevancy of the latter accomplishment, Doc Rivers is hopeful that this team does not take the regular season for granted:
“I do not want to repeat what we went through last year,” Rivers said after the opening day of training camp at Salve Regina University. “What you can say to them is that if we had won more games and taken care of business at home, then Game 7 would have been in Boston and that would have made a huge difference.
“But that is on us. What we did last season was out of necessity. It wasn’t planned. But when we had all the injuries, we had to make a tough call. Guys were in rehab. We were resting guys in the middle of the season. We were dropping games to teams you know you can beat. That is difficult for a coach to sit there and take. I am really, really hoping we don’t have to do any of that this year. Because it’s no fun. It’s no fun at all.”
“You go through a lull this year like we did last year and you’ll end up being a seventh seed,” Rivers said. “There simply are too many good teams. Everyone has to play.” (ESPNBoston)
Ray Allen echoes this sentiment while also recognizing the need to take the season one game at a time:
“The focus now is playing a great regular season,” Ray Allen said. “It has to be. What we went through last year, it was a classic example of saying, ‘What we are about to do is going to be the hardest thing we’ve done in our lives.’ Regardless of the process, or the road we took, we got to where we wanted to be.” (ESPNBoston)
On paper this team is better than the one who took to floor in 2007, but paper does not account for injuries, something of which an older team should always be weary. Whether the Celtics can stay healthy and focused remains to be seen. That being said, the hope and the expectations are both high- and right where they need to be.