First, the good news. We were one open jumper (in the hands of the greatest shooter in the game) away from winning yesterday. Honestly, if you offered me that scenario at this time yesterday, I would have gladly taken it.
Now the bad news, which you know already. We lost. Just like we lost to the Hawks and Magic. We lost to all those teams at nearly full strength (missing only Daniels). If we plan on winning a championship this year, you can bet we're going to have to go through at least two or maybe all 3 of those teams to do it (and you can bet that we'll be dinged up or worse when we get there).
Rewind to last week. I could have made the case that we match up well with the Magic in a series and if we were lucky we wouldn't have to face the Hawks (but maybe could pull it out if we had to). Then in the Finals, anything can happen, especially with a team that plays top notch defense. Remember that the Lakers were heavily favored two years ago too.
Now? Who can be sure of anything now? I think this is still a championship contending team. Three losses out of 82 games isn't going to change all that much. But I gotta admit, my confidence in this team is shaken.
Best case scenario: The team takes a long hard look at itself in the mirror today and decides that the world is against them, the world has counted them out, and they have just one last shot to prove everyone wrong. That kind of attitude can cover over a lot of faults. That kind of determination can ratchet up this good defensive team to become a great defensive team. And make no mistake about it. This team will live and die on defense alone. In particular fourth quarter defense. I could see this team buckling down, focusing on stops, and riding that momentum through June to win banner 18.
Worst case scenario: This team continues to believe they are championship contenders just by stepping on the court. They could run hot and cold the rest of the year, beating up on bad teams, coming up just short against good teams, and entering the playoffs with more questions than answers. Inevitably that kind of team would be ripe for an early exit. Yes, perhaps even the first round. Even at their peak, this team has had trouble getting past the early rounds and without proper focus, this team could be bounced early.
Honestly, I'm not sure there's a lot of room in between those two scenarios. Either we are championship contenders or we are not.
And Ian Thomson has a point. It all boils down to the Big 3. If they have enough life in their legs to carry this team down the stretch, then we can win another title. If not, we can't. Period. End of story.
That's why I still don't want to hear about trading Ray for "young legs." That would not put us in position to win the title this year. Fundamentally changing the roster by that much mid season would never give us enough time to learn how to play together and win a title. In addition, I don't think you can bring in anyone that is available on the market and know for sure that they will be able to help us win a title in the next few years with Rondo and an aging KG and Pierce. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't see it. (note: Chris Sheridan appears to disagree with me)
We could make a deal with our non-Ray expiring contracts for bench depth, and that would help (in theory). We will likely get Marquis Daniels back soon, and that should help. But championships are won by superstars in this league, and we need to ride this group of superstars as far as they will take us (and deal with next year in the offseason).
This is the last chance this team will have to win a title with the Big 3 leading the way. They already lean heavily on Rondo and they're not going to get any healthier or younger in future years. I think they do have enough left to win another title, but in their heads they have to start the playoffs now. They must believe that every game is a must win game and everyone in the world is out to get them. They have to band together as a team and stand defiant against the universe. In other words, they must walk the talk that is constantly flowing from their mouths.