One of the buzz phrases of the summer seems to be "Window of Opportunity". For the Celtics, their window of opportunity - or "WOO" as Ric Flair would call it - is apparently closing.
If we are to believe the countless writers that have suggested this, the Celtics have maybe one or two more chances to win a title before the franchise goes into a downward spiral.
So, several questions arise. How long will this window remain open? How long will it take to recover from going into a downward spiral? Can Bent manage to keep this article below 1,000 words?
I'm going to try and find out...While this team was going through the rebuilding process, one of the most important sites for any Celtics fanatic was the hoopshype salaries page. Color co-ordinated, it set out the salary cap position over the next few years so that the most seasoned Never-Lose-Hopers could instantly tell, at a glance, who was tradeable, when a guy's contract became more valuable than he himself was and at what stage it was realistic to expect an impact move.
Since those impact moves were made, at the right time, that page has become somewhat redundant. The Celtics would be well over the cap for the next few years and it would be up to the owners to decide what moves were worth paying the luxury tax for.
What we need now, is some sort of color-coded WOO page, so that you can tell at a glance when a team has peaked, when one window closes another looks set to open. Are there guys on this team that are past their best? Sure. Are there guys who have yet to reach their full potential? Youbetcha.
We've already seen a dress rehearsal for the early stages of this downward spiral, as Kevin Garnett was (temporarily, thankfully) gone at the end of last season and the team strived to defend their title without him. Look what happened. Rondo stepped up, as he had seen Pierce, Allen and Garnett do for each other on so many occasions during the championship season. Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins were able to hold their own in the paint, primarily because both had made significant improvements in terms of athleticism over the last two years, another one of the perks (no pun intended) of working with a team playing at a championship level. Had the likes of Pierce, Powe and Allen been fully fit, another title was not beyond the realms of possibility. So maybe the Celtics can remain a contender once their three big guns start to walk back out through "that door". Perhaps Rondo will continue to develop so that his contribution - not just his salary - replaces that of the first of them to leave.
Recent history tells us that if an NBA team loses a great player, they aren't often able to replace them with someone of equivalent status. The Lakers recovered from losing Shaq eventually, but it took some time and a lot of luck. Just from looking around the Eastern Conference, the Pacers, Sixers and Nets have still yet to replace Miller, Iverson and Kidd.
Perhaps the most pertinent example of all is the original Big Three. It took forever to replace those guys, although that was at least partially attributable to the tragic death of Reggie Lewis, who was that team's equivalent of Rondo as heir apparent. It is worth pointing out, however, that Ainge suggested to Red Auerbach that one of that original Big Three should be traded to extend their window of opportunity back in the late eighties, so he clearly favored long-term stability over compassion and sentiment even then.
The combined age of Pierce, Allen and Garnett on opening day will be 99. The combined age of the Bird, McHale and Parish when they won the last of their three titles together? 89. However, they still played well over the next few years...and modern athletes can keep going for longer, right?
I recall Bill Simmons complaining when the Celtics acquired Ray Allen, because the only shooting guard other than Michael Jordan to continue to play at a high level into his mid-thirties was Reggie Miller. However, has there been anyone more suitable to compare Ray Allen to than Reggie? Miller averaged 15 points a game as a 39 year old and has played 12,000 more regular season minutes than Allen, who averages less than 3,000 per season.
Kevin Garnett is coming off his first major injury, so it remains to be seen how this affects him. Tim Duncan is a good comparison because they play a similar style and are the same age, although Garnett entered the league two years earlier and almost has an extra 3,000 minutes worth of tread on his tires. Duncan has looked like he's been slowing down for some time now, but that hasn't really affected his productivity.
You never can tell with big men. Will he be more like a Robert Parish (went on to play 11 more years after Garnett's current age of 33, accumulating an additional 10,215 points, 6,856 rebounds and 925 blocks) or a Kevin McHale (number of games started in the 3 years from his 33rd birthday onwards: 10, 1, 0 - and then he retired) or even a Jermaine O'Neal (like one of those life expectancy tests where you add up all the drinking and smoking you've done over the course of your life and realize you should have been finished two years ago)?
Finally, Paul Pierce may be the youngest of the three and the closest to his peak, but then again this may simply mean he is more valuable and could be considered a bargaining chip in a year or two.
For Ainge, the challenge is to pull the trigger at the right time, so he can somehow bridge the gap between this window and the next one. When he took the job, he promised to build a team that would remain in contention year after year, and even managed to keep the team relatively competitive during the five years it took to build a legitimate contender. It's clear Ainge's ultimate goal is to create a situation where one window leads directly into another.
I guess you could call this the Greenhouse Effect.