"The only thing that matters is championships."
Let's get that line out of the way right from the jump. Ultimately it is true because that's what we'll remember ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. But there's usually a process and progression to these things. Teams don't just go from worst to first overnight...
...oh wait, I guess the Celtics did just that in 2008. But hopefully most of you that are old enough to vote have a basic understanding that the Pierce-KG-Allen era was the exception, not the norm. For the most part, championship teams (like the Spurs and Warriors) are built over time. Even super-teams like the Heat and Cavs take time to congeal and mesh (and sometimes they never do).
The long-winded point I'm trying to make is this: there are steps along the way to a title, and the journey can be nearly as fun as the destination. Or to borrow our head coach's philosophy, the only goal is continued progress.
A couple of years ago, the team bottomed out and focused largely on lottery positioning. It looked like it was going to be more of the same last year, but somehow the team was able to put the rebuild into hyperdrive and made a brief appearance in the playoffs. You could argue how valuable that experience was compared to the potential return of a higher draft pick, but in the big picture it seems like progress.
Now we're watching a team that is currently sitting in the No. 3 seed in the East, and it seems like we need to recalibrate what success is. Simply making the playoffs is practically a foregone conclusion for this team, this season. Can the team win their first playoff game for Brad Stevens? How about a series? Dare we hope for more?
I'm not all that focused on what the team could do. With a hot streak, some timely injuries for opponents, and a lot of luck, there's no telling how far this team could go. But within the parameters of what is "reasonable" to expect, I think the aim needs to be somewhere closer to the horizon.
Personally I'm looking for at least a first-round victory. In theory, matchups will be important, but for the life of me I'm not sure which teams I'd like to see and who I'd want to avoid (aside from the Cavs). The Raptors, Heat, Hawks, Hornets, Pacers, Pistons, and Bulls all have strengths and weaknesses. They present problems for opponents, but so do the Celtics. Many of them have stars to contend with the players on Boston's roster, but the Celtics have Thomas to counter those stars and Brad Stevens to game-plan.
To me, it seems like progress just to be able to say with confidence that this team can run with any of those Eastern teams. And since things are so even across the board, you could make the case that winning two rounds and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals isn't out of the question.
After that, all bets are beyond long shots. Even if The Land implodes in a heap of egos and the Celtics somehow sneak into the Finals, they would await the buzzsaw of whomever the basketball deity anoints between the Warriors and Spurs.
As much as I'd like to see this team advance a couple of rounds, there's just as good a chance that they come up short in the first round, especially if Crowder's injury lingers or turns out to be worse than it sounds. We could wind up catching a team on their own hot streak. This isn't the NCAA tourney where one hot shooting night ends your season, but when the competition is this close in talent level, the difference can come down to made free throws or the last guy in the rotation coming up big one night.
I would be disappointed in a first-round out, but I'm not sure if it would be a condemnation of the rebuild process, especially since we have been waiting for the Godot of free agency or trades to make us legit contenders again.
I really would like to see Brad Stevens get his first playoff series win under his belt. Anything beyond that would be gravy for me. What about you?