The more I think back to the 2008-2009 season and compare it to the 2007-2008 season, the more I realize how much was actually different. Like most fans I assumed that after we won, we'd just keep on rolling and possibly put together something resembling a dynasty. This wasn't supposed to be a one and done situation like the Miami Heat back in 2006. Our winning days were supposed to last at least three years, if not longer.
I know Kevin Garnett was hurt last season. I know we lost James Posey and P.J. Brown. I know Leon Powe went down in the playoffs. We lost an awful lot of talent to injury and if by some divine miracle we had actually pulled out a second championship or even a Finals appearance, it would have probably gone down as one of those "dream" seasons where everything essentially had to fall into place for us at just the right time.
But besides the different players and the injuries, we drastically missed so many finite tendencies, traditions and trademarks last year that helped define us as champions back in 2007-08.
You see, our only championship in the past two decades wasn't defined solely by the players and the coaching strategies or the nightly matchups. Sure, they played a vital role, but here's my list of other trademarks that we coveted two seasons ago, but sorely missed last year:The catchy team slogan: Sure, we tried to bring 'Ubuntu' back, but Tom Halzack said it best when he wrote back on September 8 when referring to last season: 'Ubuntu seemed so last year'. Despite us wanting to still believe in the African proverb that became the verbal trademark of the championship season, the slogan itself seemed reserved for the rarity of the 2007-08 team and once we lost James Posey and P.J. Brown, we simply weren't looking at the same team that made it a household name. Sometimes, something works one time around, but loses its luster shortly thereafter, like a Free Credit Report.com commercial or a Geico Caveman.
Alas, there is hope this season. There is opportunity. With Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels joining the squad and Kevin Garnett returning, the excitement is mounting as if it were 2007-08 all over again. Now is the perfect time to implement another slogan that we can all hang our hats on, particularly during our rough stretches. It doesn't have to be an African proverb or even have some deep meaning. It just has to be something catchy that brings everyone closer together and keeps them there.
The victory cigar: The now immortal Gino graced the video board whenever it became clear that the Celtics would be walking away with a win back in 2008. No matter how much time was left, the Garden went from respected basketball venue to certified dance party, with the Celtics players themselves leading the crowd. Shirts were made, jokes were told and sometimes it actually seemed as if wanting to see Gino one night served as some extra motivation for the team. But, like Ubuntu, Gino helped define 2007-08.
I suppose replacing trends like Ubuntu and Gino is really like replacing quality players. Sure, there will never be another Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, but we hope to find players like them in the future. We want a slashing, clutch scorer like Pierce, a pure sniper in Allen and an enthusiastic defensive stopper similar to Garnett. Will we ever get the originals back? Unfortunately not. But that doesn't mean we can't find solace and excitement in the next wave of talent. The same can be said for team slogans and victory cigars.
Incredible team chemistry: Sure, last season's wasn't that bad at all. In fact, the chemistry last year was still so good it made some other franchises jealous. But it couldn't compare to what we saw back in 2007-08. Remember how we would go up by double digits at some point in the fourth quarter (and Gino would appear!), but rather than sit mutely on the bench, the veterans and All-Stars were up on their feet screaming support for the pine guys now gracing the parquet?
Between the high-fives, the chest bumps and the Posey man hugs, we were the closest knit group in the league. Maybe it had something to do with having training camp over in Rome (and KG buying all the rookies fresh suits). Maybe it was our steady collection of strong personalities. Maybe it was the fact that we were winning. Whatever the case may be, both the bench and the starters wanted each other to succeed in the greatest way possible and that ultimately made us the most cohesive team in the entire league.
A Posey-like intangibles guy: I feel like I've dropped Posey's name more than any other so far, which means I either really, really liked him or he was just that vital in 2007-08. I'm sure it's a little bit of both. But, as we all know, there's only one James Posey and, unless Danny Ainge works some magic that would leave Harry Potter jealous, he won't be here this season. However, Posey's diverse and versatile game helped make up for what was arguably a lack of talent in the second unit back in '08. (If you recall, before Sam Cassell and P.J. Brown showed up, our second unit was typically comprised of Posey, Eddie House, Glen Davis (a rookie at the time), Leon Powe and one of the starters.). Now that we arguably have a more talented group than we did in 2007-08, we might not need all of what Posey brought, but we'll need at least some of it. We need that guy who draws offensive fouls, dives into the stands even when it's clear the ball cannot be retrieved and salvages broken plays when the offense seems to be going nowhere.
Leon Powe played something along the lines of this role last season, especially when he stepped in to take a charge. Before him, it was Ryan Gomes. Slowly, but surely we've lost our intangible guys. With Posey it was the confidence, the grittiness on defense, the superior hustle, the timely plays and the championship aura that surrounded him. Pierce could realistically fill such a role, but a player shouldn't have to adapt his game to fill in here. Some players are born to play this way and I'm not entirely sure we have such a player right now.
A backup point guard: Clearly, success in the regular season depends on this position. Wait...hold on. Wasn't Eddie House, a shoot-first guard our backup point back in 2007-08 for over three quarters of the season? Meaning we didn't actually have a true backup until Sam Cassell joined the ranks on March 4, 2008? And isn't House technically our backup to Rajon Rondo right now? If you'll recall, the Celtics were 49-12 when Cassell played his first game as a Celtic. Not too shabby. What's more, with this season's bench being arguably more talented than that of two years ago, House backing up Rondo might even prove to be more effective this time around.
And if you lack confidence in House, perhaps Daniels, who apparently could kill two birds with one stone by backing up Pierce and handling the ball for the second unit, is your man.
Now, believe it or not, I actually want stability at the backup point guard spot and I would be in favor of signing a guy like Tyronn Lue (or another proven veteran). Beyond having a guy who can handle the ball, particularly when pressure is applied, it allows House to focus solely on shooting, which paid dividends last year when he set a Celtics single-season three-point shooting mark with a .444 clip. But if adding a wily vet isn't in the cards, we'll have to make due with the House/Daniels combo for now. However, the postseason is an entirely different beast and will require the aforementioned stability behind Rondo. Perhaps we'll pick someone up at the deadline, or wait for someone to clear waivers late in the regular season.
KG conducting the crowd: There's something truly compelling about watching your team's emotional leader literally reaching out to the crowd for support. When Garnett stuck up his arms he demanded the crowd's attention and it always responded. Not only did the noise threaten to take the roof off the building, but it directly propelled the team when it needed that one last defensive stop or clutch basket. What's more, KG was asking for that energy so he could hone it himself. Who else does that? Maybe a revitalized Garnett will mean more of this is on the way.
Above all, we need to bring the exciting, fun, compelling and simply different atmosphere of 2007-08 back again. That team was more than just a collection of basketball players. They were a great group of people we all loved rooting for and only once they were broken up did we realize how special it actually was. While it's incredibly difficult to replicate a season, we can at least try to bring back some of the heart and soul that made 2007-08 so special and most importantly, made it a championship season.