If 6 years ago I told you the Boston Celtics would have Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal, and Michael Finley all at the same time, you’d have punched me in the face for lying to you. You might have cried a little too because it had been so long since Boston had 6 quality players all at the same time. But once I got through spitting out teeth and suing you, sometime around now, I think you’d owe me an apology. Because Boston suddenly has all those players.
Sadly it isn’t 2004. Not a one of those players is remotely in his prime any longer. Here’s what they were:
Shaq – Best player on 4 consecutive Finals teams still the best low post scoring option in the league. Could not be stopped on the blocks. Required a double team. Best center in the game.
KG – Best all-around player in the game. Led league in rebounding, big points and assists, quite possibly the best defender in the league. Carried a team whose second best player was an aging Sam Cassell to the conference Finals against LA, and might have made the Finals and won had Cassell not gone down to an injury (and Cassell’s backup was hurt too). Best forward in the game.
Paul Pierce – Great swingman who could get to the line all game. Good midrange post game. Could pretty much do it all. Top 3 small forward in the game.
Ray Allen – Best shooter in the league. Fast and athletic. A clutch shooter as well. Explosive scorer. Explosive scorer and talented playmaker. One of the top 3 shooting guards in the league.
Jermaine O’Neal – Athletic big man with great shooting touch facing up to about 14 feet and a nice post game. Terrific team defender in the paint. Capable at both the 4 and 5. Not quite Franchise level, but one of the top 5 centers in the league.
Michael Finley – Good swingman with nice athleticism and a good jumper. Decent, not great defender. Versatile, aggressive, big minutes do it all type of off-guard.
That was then. All of those people are gone. Here’s what we’re getting next year:
Shaq – Some post scoring. Lots of fouls committed and hopefully lots of fouls drawn (that could help a lot against teams that get 20 more free throws in game 7 of the Finals). Not much rebounding, but an occupier of opposing big men who should make it easier for others to rebound. Low minutes. Health is a going concern.
Garnett – Lots of skills, shrinking athleticism, dropping minutes, aggressiveness, and production. KG has thus far remained fairly efficient, but his prowess as an individual scorer has dropped off as has his help defense covering for teammates. Still one of the best in the game when he locks in and gives it all but not able to do so very often. Health is a going concern.
Pierce – Explosive, virtually unguardable scorer in short bursts, has become a one on one player who can shoot his team into or out of games. Defensive movement is slowing but still effective. Shot threes at an all-time best last year. Not as old as the other geriatrics, but never quite looked himself after early injuries. Health is a going concern.
Allen – Still a great shooter except when wide open in the NBA Finals, he had a bounce back year last year and even upped his defensive intensity. Has definitely lost a step and lost some elevation. Ankles seem to have recovered.
Jermaine – Pretty good one on one and team defender. Can spot up to about 12 feet and score in the post when given lots of time and space. Not a go-to player by any means. Rebounding range is limited now. Health was better than usual last year.
Finley – Can still spot up and hit jumpers. That is all. Health not an issue because minutes won’t allow him to be that big a factor anyway.
So… Boston does not have a starting All-NBA team with an All-Star 6th man (the ’86 team almost did). Shaq and Jermaine should each help plug the gap left by the knee injury to Perkins and add some individual elements that the team was missing last year. When Perk gets back the big man depth ought to be very strong. That said, the Celts are going to need even more out of their non-dinosaurs if they want to compete for a title again. Rondo has to find a way to contribute when teams play off the way the Lakers did with Kobe. He needs to punish teams for forgetting him. Nate Robinson needs to find the balance between explosiveness and burning the game plan to the ground. Marquis Daniels needs to find a game of some kind (Danny and Doc swear he’s got one but didn’t get to be a bigger part of the team because of early injuries – Tony Allen’s minutes are his to take , so I hope they are right). Glen Davis needs to keep up the energy and aggressiveness without psyching himself out of fouling himself out. Everyone else needs to not have to play because the forementioned players are all playing great and are healthy.
At least the announcers won’t have any trouble remembering the names of the new faces. “O’Neal with the foul at the rim.” It rolls off the tongue.