With all the hand wringing and waiting for the other shoe to drop (or is that the Sword of Damocles?) we might just be overlooking the biggest thing to be excited about for next season. This team might have the best trio of players in the East.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are locks to be All Stars in any season where they are healthy for the first half of the year. Al Jefferson, if last year was any indication, is well on his way to becoming an All Star himself. That gives us 3 potential All Stars. Who else in the East can claim that?
Well, Washington can. Arenas, Jamison, and Butler have each been All Stars and all are still in their primes. That has been good for 42 and 41 wins the last two years.
New Jersey is pretty close. Like Pierce and Ray, Kidd and Carter are over-30 All Stars. Richard Jefferson (like Al Jefferson) is still young and may be on his way to making it sometime soon. Once again, that trio was only good for 41 wins last year (but to be fair, they had injury issues and the prior year they had 49 wins).
Detroit boasts a lineup of Billups and Hamilton (both All Stars last year) and still have Rasheed and Prince (both of whom could ride a hot month or two into an All Star appearance).
It might not be long before Chicago can claim 3 All Stars. Ben Wallace is on the decline of his career, but he’s still bigtime when he’s on his game. On the upswing the Bulls also have Deng, Gordon, and Hinrich.
Toronto can’t claim any All Stars beyond Bosh, but they do have a well put together overall team, which might even be a better way to go (but that’s another story).
After that, we are looking at a lot of two and one star teams like Miami (Shaq/Wade), Orlando (Howard/Lewis), New York (Starbury/Zach), Milwaukee (Redd), Indy (O’Neal), Cleveland (James), Atlanta (Johnson), and Charlotte (Richardson, Wallace, and Okafor all have potential).
So, does having 3 All Stars really mean anything? I guess it depends on what mix of stars you have. I think the Wizards and Nets are a cautionary tale to getting too excited about this. They had some runs where they looked very good in the regular season, and they were able to get some wins in the post season, but they were never serious contenders for the Eastern crown.One reason is because both teams are very perimeter heavy.
Neither team has a real low post presence. Kristic has potential, but hasn’t had a chance to realize it yet. Jamison plays power forward, but is more of a tweener and swing player. At least the Celtics have Al Jefferson, who plays a true post-up game. So what is the best mix of 3 All Stars? I’m thinking the 80’s Lakers were pretty ideal. They had a point (Magic), center (Jabar), and forward (Worthy). The 80’s Celtics were a pretty good model too, with their Big 3. This isn’t the good ol’ days though, so the trio the team has now will have to do (for now). The Celtics still need to address the depth at point and center before they can feel comfortable with their lineup.
With that said, just being able to talk about the playoffs is starting to get me excited about the season already. I can’t wait to see what a whole season of Jefferson playing with 2 perennial All Stars does to his game. I can’t wait to see teams play Jefferson straight up because they can’t cheat off other players. I can’t wait to see what lanes open up because teams have to gameplan for Jefferson. I can, however, put off thinking about the lack of defense the team might be playing next year. It is the optimist in me that puts those thoughts comfortably aside. Only the blogger in me forces me to make some attempt at objectivity. Still, the fan in me is still waiting for Ainge to address (or even admit) these shortcomings in the roster. Let’s hear it for inner turmoil!
The bottom line is that having 3 (potential) All Stars sure sounds nice, but at the end of the day, it in itself doesn’t mean anything unless they complement each other and produce playoff wins.