Meet this year's team, same as last year's team (with a few minor changes here and there). The good news: the team that was a few quarters away from winning the Championship will be back. The bad news: the team that looked battered, bruised, aged, and at times uninterested during the regular season will also be back. The ugly truth: they'll be a year older and the East may have gotten a lot better this offseason. So will the team be Championship contenders again? The short answer is that I just don't know. The longer answer follows.
Ok, good news first. These truths we hold to be self evident. When healthy, rested, and fully focused, this team can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere. Mostly due to defense but also because they share a common focus on team-first basketball. In fact, that same unity gets them through a lot of not-so-ideal situations like injuries and even in-house squabbles. They are steered by a coach that has earned their respect and admiration and in turn he has put his faith and trust in them long after everyone else has written them off.
Garnett, a year removed from surgery, might just come back stronger next season. Paul Pierce keeps getting knocked around and keeps on going. Ray Allen is such a physical training nut and he'll probably outlive us all. Rondo is still young and invincible while Perkins will be back in time for the stretch drive. If all goes according to plan we will be once again counted out by the national media and once again take great joy in knocking off the higher profile teams in the East.
Now the bad news. Reading what I just wrote, there are too many "if" and "might" statements to count. A lot has to fall right for a return trip to the Finals. Last year was a dream run in the playoffs given what a train wreck the regular season was like. What are the chances the team can flip the switch successfully once again?
We are starting at day zero with a major injury to one of our starters and Perkins is one of the "younger" players on the team. What if Garnett with all the miles on his legs ends up being even less of a factor? Rebounding was a major concern last year and KG's numbers are trending in the wrong direction. If he ends up being just a jump shooter, he's a lot less valuable to us. If he loses his lateral movement and can't defend the way he's known for, he's just going to get more and more frustrated and less and less productive. This concerns me greatly.
And then there's the ugly. Is Jermaine O'Neal going to be an upgrade over Rasheed Wallace or is he set for a decline of his own? Are we really headed into the season with Big Baby and "Semih-pro" Erden as the backup center rotation? Will Marquis Daniels be the kind of guy that we thought we were signing up for last year or the kind of guy that we ended up getting last year? Can rookie Avery Bradley replace some of the defensive energy that Tony Allen brought off the bench? Will the Shrek & Donkey show develop enough consistency to carry us through the offensive droughts that plagued the team in the Finals? Will Danny be able to turn Rasheed's contract into a valuable piece to the team? Lots of question marks there.
Oh, and by the way, if you thought it was tough last year for Doc to motivate the troops during the regular season, wait till he tries it this year (now that they've proven they can flip the switch in the Spring).
Meanwhile, they are busy printing Finals tickets in South Beach. Maybe it will work or maybe it won't, but you can certainly add them to the list of legitimate title contenders. Granted, you can cross the Cavs from that list but the Bulls just got a lot better and the Magic aren't getting any worse (and if they add Chris Paul... well, wow). Rondo is right, those other teams haven't won nothin' but the '08 Celtics hadn't won nothin' ...until they did. It will be an interesting year to say the least.
So a year from now when we look back on the coming year, what will be the prevailing theme? Will it be mostly good? Could there be a little too much bad? Or will it be downright ugly? Your thoughts and predictions are welcome.