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The Boston Globe published 18 “burning” questions for this upcoming Celtics season on Monday in honor of team’s pursuit of their 18th championship banner.
Some questions – “Have the Celtics been passed by the Bruins in popularity?” (probably, but how does that affect the upcoming season?) and “Can Keyon Dooling make fans forget Delonte West?” (yes, except for his neck tattoos) – were less “burning.” But four jumped out, intertwining to make me recognize the nagging, negative energy and pervading sense of doom I have entering this shortened 2011-12 season.
The four questions were:
Is this a bridge year?
What are Celtics fans most worried about?
And, perhaps most worrisome…
It pains me to say it (literally – my stomach feels like a sinking stone), but the Big Three don’t have enough to keep the Celtics in contention for their second title since 2008. Do they have enough talent to win? Yes. Do they have sufficient health and stamina? Now that’s a different answer.
Everyone seems to think fewer games play to the Celtics strength since they seem to break down towards the end of the season, stumbling into the playoffs. But hardly anyone mentions that the Celtics must play those 66 games in just 120 days, with an insane number of back-to-backs and oftentimes just one day off in between those sets of two games in two nights.
The Celtics should consider themselves lucky that they only have one back-to-back-to-back, but even so, I can’t envision Garnett’s already obliterated knee joints and Pierce’s propensity for bumps and bruises lasting a whole season.
Doc Rivers will have to concede some games in order to rest his aging nucleus of stars and keep them fresh for the entire season, and ideally for the playoff push. So prepare yourselves, Celtics fans, because there will be some nights when you have to watch the C’s get slaughtered as part of the “bigger picture.” Just be glad you aren’t a season ticket holder. (And if you are a season-ticket holder, just be glad you aren’t poor like me!)
The term “bridge year” conjures up images of teams not contending for a title and in limbo moving forward. It seems hard to believe a team with four All-Stars could be part of a bridge year, and in the East, the Celtics are all but a lock to make the playoffs. Normally that’s not a “bridge:” that’s a season on solid ground. But Boston holds higher standards, and nothing less than a chance at a title will suffice.
Realistically, though, the Celtics’ age means they aren’t in a position to make a title run. Instead, they’re looking at the final year before Allen and Garnett come off the books and free up a ton of cap space to make a major offseason splash (please give me Dwight Howard).
It feels like everyone is already speculating whether Rajon Rondo can serve as the franchise player for Boston to build around. With the original Boston Three Party too old to take over night in and night out, this is the year where we all just give the keys to Rondo and see if he can drive the team home. This Celtics team is in the midst of transitioning from the Big Three Era to whatever free agency and cap space holds in store.
That sounds like a rickety rope bridge, complete with missing and rotting wooden boards, suspended across the chasm between a rock and a hard place. In my humble opinion, anyway.
Speaking for myself as a Celtics fan, clearly the concern is whether this season is even worth watching (no seriously, should I spend $109 to get NBA League Pass?). But with no depth on an aging roster during a shortened season that demands able-bodied bench players, this Celtics team forced me to write them off completely as a coping mechanism. That way when they inevitably fail, it won’t hurt so much. Or if they somehow surpass my lowest expectations, I’ll be exceedingly surprised at the pleasantness of it all.
With 2012 written off, however, this Celtics fan is most worried about what next year brings and how this team is going to compete in the future. Who will that cap space bring us? Can Rondo actually be the building block and the focal point of a successful team? Why doesn’t anyone want to play in Boston anymore (see: Paul, Chris and West, David)? And why is my will to live directly correlated to the most recent parade down the Charles?
This was the most terrifying question of all, because I have no idea. And seeing as this was a “burning” question, that means some guy who I’ve never heard of – and, based on the question, never should have heard of – is suddenly integral to the success of this year’s team.
This question is the Jeopardy-style answer to all of the other questions. No, Pierce, Garnett, and Allen don’t have enough because they need the help of the mysterious Stiemsma. Yes, this is a bridge year, because the Celtics are relying on contributions from the question-mark henceforth known as Greg Stiemsma. Celtics fans are most concerned with why they have to know who the heck Greg Stiemsma is.
In other words, I shouldn’t have to be introduced to a member of a team in title contention.
In the end, I’m resting all of my hopes on the absurd results of the 50-game, lockout-shortened 1999 season: the Knicks barely broke .500 (27-23), snuck into the playoffs as the eight-seed, then got hot at just the right time to make it to the NBA Finals (only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs). The Minnesota Timberwolves lost as many games as they won that season and still somehow managed to win a playoff game before bowing down to the eventual champions.
The Celtics are going to have to rest their aging stars and give up any thoughts of a top seed in order to stay healthy and fresh for the playoffs. Home-court advantage be damned: This is a veteran team that should have figured out how to win on the road by now, and they’ll have to if they want to contend for one last title before retooling the entire roster next year.
As depressing as that is, that’s truly the only “salve”-ation I could come up with to these “burning” questions.
With the 2011-12 NBA season just a day away, this Celtics team has far more questions surrounding it than answers.