One of the big questions about the new big three is how well they’ll play together. Will they get enough shots? Will they get in each other’s way? Will they step on each other’s toes? Will Pierce feel pushed aside? Will Kevin and Allen feel welcome? Valid questions all. But personally I’m really not worried.
The biggest reason I have to hope against all these potential pitfalls is the way I see these unique pieces fitting together both on and off the court. Kevin Garnett is an active volcano of energy and emotion. Ray Allen is the quiet, confident, mentor type. Paul Pierce is a good humored, welcoming, one-of-the-guys type. It all seems to work in harmony in my head.
Garnett wakes up in the morning with his motor running and doesn’t stop bouncing around till he’s done. His energy is infectious. Everyone around him feels the brimming excitement and wants a piece of it. They respond to him and follow his lead. Even the droopy eyed sloth Mark Blount managed to show signs of life around the Big Ticket.
I remember reading a story about the original draft workout that Garnett had with the Timberwolves. This was before KG and Kobe made drafting high schoolers look smart. Going into it, McHale and the guy with him (I can’t recall all the details) were skeptical at best. They put Garnett through a drill where he picked the ball up off the floor, took a drop step, and slammed the ball home. As the drill went on, instead of slowing down like most players, he picked up speed. He was dunking with more and more enthusiasm and force. At some point he started screaming with each dunk, louder and louder. After the workout McHale turned to the guy with him and said "I can’t believe we’re going to draft a high school player."
Who can be around someone like that and stand unaffected? I can’t wait to see how the players on this team respond to playing with Garnett.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ray Allen. That isn’t to say that he doesn’t play the game with passion or energy. Just that he carries himself in a way that internalizes that fire.
Allen has a politician’s smile and a preacher’s heart. He lets the louder personalities take their place on the stage (Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell, Coach Nate McMillen) while leading by example and mentoring the players in the background. He won’t make a lot of noise with his mouth, but when he speaks people listen and the players will look to him for wisdom and encouragement. He will play a quiet but vital role on this team.
Paul Pierce is in full red carpet mode. He’s thrilled to death to be welcoming in two superstar teammates and he’s going to do everything he can to make them feel at home. Thankfully that’s what he does best. You seldom see Pierce yelling at his teammates like MJ. You don’t think of him as a "natural leader" type. But he does love to get the guys together and clown around and make them feel at home.
He was the one offering up cash for Tony Allen’s best dunks in summer league. He was the one inviting players out to his home in Vegas. He is now the one arranging for the newest Celtics to spend some time getting to know the city of Boston and each other.
In doing so, he creates a bond with the players and establishes a rapport. That camaraderie is very important to building team chemistry. When his teammates see Paul out there taking the beating that he does, they naturally want to step up and fight the fight with their teammate.
Pierce struggled with his leadership status when Antoine left town because Walker was always there to give the sound bites and challenge teammates and generally take the spotlight. I don’t think Pierce has ever felt fully comfortable in that role because it was never a great fit for him. Having two other stars next to him, he’s free to do what he does.
A Perfect Fit
Put all these various puzzle pieces together and the image takes shape. Garnett provides the passion, Allen provides wisdom, and Pierce provides camaraderie. There’s no need to fight over who will be the leader because they all will lead in their own way.