After six years of up-and-down (mostly up and often glorious) team basketball from the Boston Celtics, this year’s squad looks like a thinly-veiled attempt at winning a higher lottery pick (Andrew Wiggins, anyone?). Franchise cornerstone Paul Pierce is in Brooklyn, alongside heart-and-soul Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen is still polishing the ring he won last year in Miami. Fans’ hearts ache for their lost Big Three. So why would anyone want to watch volatile floor general Rajon Rondo lead a bunch of has-beens, never-weres, and ex-Kardashian husbands to the bottom of the standings? Because we just don’t think that’s going to be the case. And even if it turns out to be, it will be entertaining. Here’s why.
Call us crazy: Down years can be fun
Yes, Boston has been blessed in recent years (seven — maybe eight — championships in the four major sports since 2001, and 12 final round appearances total in that span). But it hasn’t been all ups. Aren’t we all now enjoying that whole Red Sox “Worst to First” storyline? We can laugh off the pain of past embarrassments because we’re in the driver’s seat. So while we may pine for Pierce and KG, isn’t it at least a little exciting to see what this group can do? Can Jeff Green make good on those flashes of brilliance he showed last year and the faith the team has instilled in him? Which volume shooter will emerge as a steady scoring threat, MarShon Brooks or Jordan Crawford? Is Avery Bradley really Rondo’s backcourt mate of the future or just a tease (and when healthy, can anyone get by that duo defensively)? Will casual fans grasp the pronunciation of Kelly Olynyk’s last name (pictured) or either of Vitor Faverani’s names? The possibilities are endless. Change is scary but new is exciting.
Brad Stevens might try to grow a beard
He’s babyfaced and it’s always interesting to see how grizzled vets will respond to a rookie coach with peach fuzz on his face. Maybe Stevens attempts a beard to build solidarity Red Sox-style, or just to look older now that he’s in the big-time. But seriously, we know plenty of successful college coaches haven’t been able to replicate that success in the pros. Beard or no beard, Stevens actually could be an exception. He’s young and smart, a great tactician and player developer who builds airtight trust, and best of all, he’s working without expectations and with a load of job security (six-year contract). So maybe he doesn’t need a beard to win respect from Gerald Wallace or Keith Bogans. But we’re still hoping he gives it a shot, just for the hell of it.
Speaking of Bogans (seen here rubbing Brooks’ head), his presence on the roster has us very excited. Sure, he’s washed up and he was never that good in the first place (really, a homeless man’s version of Bruce Bowen – and who wants to be that?), but he has one of the best names in pro sports. It sounds like a name from a thriller I unsuccessfully attempted to write in high school. “Keith Bogans knew the deja vus was actually foretelling his death…” He also has one of those names that you have to say both first and last. If he was your buddy, you wouldn’t call him Keith. He’s not Bogans. He’s Keith Bogans. And don’t you forget it.
Gerald Wallace could break every bone in his body
Dude has unbelievable heart and plays with a motor that doesn’t realize his bones around turning to dust in front of our eyes. He didn’t get the nickname “Crash” for no reason. Last year, he missed time due to ailments to his leg, ankle, and ribs. In the preseason, he’s already gotten a cortisone shot in his ankle and been seen in a walking boot. Unless the Celtics grant him the mercy of flipping him to a contender (nearly impossible with two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract after this season), we may be forced to watch the 31-year-old (who has abused his body into that of 61-year-old) hobble through the schedule. If anything else, it could be an interesting drinking game. (Take a sip every time Wallace comes up limping; take a shot every time he heads to the locker room. If he’s announced out for the season, finish your drink and then pour another one out for one of the grittiest players in the league.)
Can Tommy Heinsohn keep his paws off Walter McCarty?
Yes, the former Celtics forward rejoined the team as an assistant to Stevens in August. Beloved Celtics legend and color analyst Heinsohn has long been outwardly affectionate toward the sharpshooting McCarty. Here’s hoping he throws a few Tommy Points toward the bench this season just for old time’s sake.
Counting down the days until Kris Humphries is traded
The former 72-day husband of Kim Kardashian may be the only player known to some wives and daughters and he’s already endeared himself to Celtics fans by looking oh-so-thrilled to be here during his introductory press conference
and for brawling with the far-smaller Rondo at the Garden last year
when Hump played for the Nets. He’s always had an ego that outsized his talent (and make no mistake: he is a talent). While he did say he’s not interested in tanking and that GM Danny Ainge backs him up, he’s the Celtic most likely to be traded by the deadline. He’s an attractive asset for two reasons: his $12-million expiring deal and his solid production. The Celtics might keep him for the salary cap savings, but if he proves to be a nuisance — and he very well could — this might be a fun drama to watch unfold.
The Eastern Conference sucks
Well, outside Miami, which may three-peat for the first time since the Shaq/Kobe Lakers (2000-2002). Point is, the Celtics could be a playoff team. Maybe some fans don’t want to slip into the postseason just to experience a surefire first round loss, preferring more lottery balls and the faint hope of landing Wiggins (remember when Boston had the best shot at drafting Tim Duncan?). But Stevens and Rondo likely have too much pride to miss the bracket altogether. And there are only five playoff locks in the East for its eight slots: Miami, Indiana, New York, Brooklyn, and (especially now that Derrick Rose is back) Chicago. The rest of the conference is busy overtly tanking (Philadelphia), practicing a more shrewd form of patience (also known as covertly tanking — Orlando, Cleveland), or making unjustifiable salary cap moves that won’t help them improve (Milwaukee). So who could slip into those last three playoff spots? A couple of longtime bystanders, Washington and Detroit, are going for it. Even if they succeed, that’s seven spots taken. So who else? Perennial bore Atlanta? Probably the main competition. Toronto? I love Dwane Casey, but nah. Old pal Al Jefferson’s Bobcats (pictured)? The Celtics might accidentally make the playoffs, crazy as that sounds. And at that point, who doesn’t love an underdog?