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KG/Celtics Points

Kevin Garnett is a Boston Celtic. Let that sink in for a moment. Weird, isn’t it? For the first time in almost two decades we devoted Celtic-faithful have been given the opportunity to ponder the unthinkable questions. Questions like how many times will the Green be appearing on national television? Or how many teams in the NBA will finish with more wins than the C’s? And the kicker of all kickers: are the Celtics about to be flirting with championship #17?

Early answers are: many, my friends; very few, folks; and in the words of Borat: YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!!!!!!

In an effort to assess the scope of this situation, I’ll be blunt. The Celtics are better off today than they would’ve been had they gotten the number one pick in the NBA Draft. Whoa, you might be inclined to interject. You’re saying KG and Ray Allen are better for the franchise long term than Greg Oden would be? Actually no, I’m not saying that. But in case you missed my Paul Pierce Points and don’t know how much he has meant to the city of Boston over the years, I’ll be glad to expand.

I have little doubt that Oden will ultimately become the center piece of a championship team, maybe even a dynasty. For the foreseeable future, though, the kid’s still a kid (even if he looks like he could be the patriarch of multiple Oden-generations). He played one entrepreneurial year in college, and much of that one season he had the use of only his off-hand. He may be a gargantuan man among gigantic men, but rest assured, he will take his lumps for the next few years. The Shaqs and Duncans and Dwight Howards of the world simply wouldn’t have it any other way. He has a whole lot of maturing to do, even if his size and facial hair wouldn’t indicate such. Unfortunately for Paul Pierce (and hence the Celtics), time is of the essence. Paul is beyond hungry for postseason glory. He’s starving, he’s famished. Hell, he’s basically been fasting for the last five years!!

So the answer was obvious. Bring on board the two guys in the league who are arguably as hungry as Paul and at similar points in their careers, and run with it for the next three to five. The time is now. For once, that mantra employed by the Celtics’ Beantown counterparts, the Red Sox and Patriots, has been reciprocated by the Green.

Realistically, the only possible hindrance I see that could thwart this team from winning right from the word go is chemistry. As is always the case when stars get thrown together, egos will have to learn to coexist. I’m confident these three will. They have too much in common not to. All three have brought teams and cities to places they never envisioned: Paul took the Celtics to the ’02 Eastern Conference Finals; Ray carried the ’01 Bucks and the ’05 Sonics deep into the playoffs. And KG helped the ’04 Wolves win the first two playoff series in their franchise history. All have been borderline excessively-loyal guys. Other players in Paul’s or KG’s shoes would’ve skipped town years ago, given their stature and frustrating situations. As for Ray, he was as fiercely loyal to Milwaukee as anyone could be to a small-market city with no viable title shot; he didn’t depart until the powers-that-be effectively replaced him with Michael Redd.

So they’re all ecstatic to be teammates and have already been buddies for some time now, which in my opinion are the building blocks of good chemistry. And don’t underestimate the impact of Boston on their chemistry. From what I’ve heard and read, this deal wouldn’t have had a chance of happening without unrelenting lobbying on Paul’s behalf to KG. For the last few weeks he’s been in close contact with Garnett, surely playing up the value of Boston. Since the city has frequently been labeled as “that place” black athletes don’t want any part of, my bet is Paul brought KG up to speed about that misnomer. History (ie the reason why Boston has a justifiable-bad rap) aside, one thing about the city I’m sure Paul has conveyed is its unmatched passion for its teams as well as its undying love and support of its athletes.

You play pro sports in Boston, you’re automatically on a higher plateau than your colleagues in other cities. Granted, fans in Boston are needy and the media commands accountability, which combined make it difficult to be an athlete without being a celebrity. But even borderline-shy, reclusive players like Manny Ramirez feel the pull of the city to such a degree that in the end the pressure and demand is worth the reward. No city and fan base will support and defend you as staunchly as Boston. No place will drip with such visceral emotion after an otherworldly performance. And if in the end you have a hand in bringing a title to the town, every step you take from that point forward will be on hallowed ground. Paul feels it. He’s felt it through the adoration he’s received, through the devotion of the faithful. He’s felt it through Manny and Pedro and Corey Dillon and Troy Brown. And you know what else? He found a way to make KG feel it.

When you think about it, Garnett has always been destined to play in Boston. Here is a guy who literally leaves it all out on the court on a nightly basis, hell or high water. Now he’s going to be playing in a house that won’t be wondering if he’ll blow the roof off; no, they’ll be expecting it every night. And that first evening when he’s formally introduced and the entire waterfront shakes, like all athletes in new places, he’ll want to savor that moment and freeze it in time, because he’ll have to believe it will be next to impossible to rival it. So it goes for athletes previously foreign to Boston. Just wait until the first shot he hits. The first big swat he records. His first 20-20 game. His first deft dish to Paul for an overtime dagger. Just wait, KG, just wait.

It was this notion that Paul undoubtedly succeeded in relaying to KG, along with the fact that he, KG and Ray will be manhandling the East for the next few years to the tune of 55+ wins and an annual top seed in the playoffs. Once again I won’t mince words: I believe the Celtics are poised to make multiple Finals appearances over the next couple of years. I can’t go so far as to put them on that next level with the two best teams in the league, the Suns and Spurs (only because either Steve Nash or Tony Parker would manhandle Rajon Rondo en route to a Finals MVP), but I entirely believe the Celtics are now the team to beat in the East.

So am I calling number 17 just yet? No, I’m not ready to make any crazy proclamations, but I am ready to watch these guys play ball. And I will say this: when you unite a trio of seasoned and starving superstars and they get a few shots at the glory fruit, expect them to find a way to get fed.

NBA Betting Scandal

With all due disrespect to Barry Bonds and Michael Vick, what’s transpired with NBA referee Tim Donaghy over the last week is, for lack of a better term, in a whole different league. Bud Selig and Roger Goodell actually have grounds for a toast, albeit one wrought with sick irony. While each of their respective enterprises, MLB and the NFL, is seeing a major scandal come to a head, their governing-counterpart in the NBA, David Stern, is smack in the middle of a s–t storm the likes of which has never been felt in professional sports.

I never thought I would defend Bonds, a blatant cheater who is going to break one of baseball’s timeless records because of performance enhancing drugs. I also couldn’t fathom trying to give perspective to Vick’s perpetuation of a cruel and sadistic hobby for profit. But now, amid allegations that Donaghy has been fixing NBA games in an elaborate criminal endeavor, in accord with members of the mob and possibly his own colleagues, I must say that Bonds and Vick are now small potatoes. For Vick, his alleged involvement in a dog-fighting ring is abhorrent, but nonetheless is mutually exclusive to his day job as an employee of the NFL. In Bonds’ case, the entire home run/steroid era of the last decade is going down in history with a collective asterisk; he’s just going to be the poster-boy because of the amount of dubious home runs he’s hit. However, right next to him will be his partners in crime, guys like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield (and many more).

The word “integrity” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to athletes and improprieties. Bonds and everyone else who’s ever juiced have exhibited very little personal integrity, which in turn has cast a shadow over the game of baseball. Likewise for Vick, and his alleged operation of animal cruelty. There are two glaring differences between them and Donaghy though. First, their actions never sought to undermine the games themselves in the name of illicit financial gain. Second, they are athletes, not officials. There have been two major precedents for players using their sports to profit monetarily, both in baseball. In 1919 the Chicago White Sox (aka the “Black Sox”) threw the World Series because they were underpaid and treated poorly by their owner, Charles Comiskey. The term “Black Sox” was in fact spawned because Comiskey was too cheap to pay for his team’s dry-cleaning, resulting in black, sordid uniforms (although history would ultimately validate the nickname). The second instance involved Pete Rose, who as we all know wagered on tons of baseball, which included his own team, the Cincinnati Reds. However, he never bet against his own team, and he was still one player on a field of nine.

What Donaghy has supposedly been doing, fixing games, is not simply on another level of the severity scale, it’s on the highest level. Why? Because he’s a referee; it’s his sole purpose to moderate games in the most unbiased of fashions. In addition, basketball is the easiest game to fix. Unlike in other major professional sports, officials in basketball actually hold sway over how many points are scored. Of course the play of the athletes is obviously supposed to dictate the amount of foul calls and not vice versa, but that’s exactly the catch. With over/unders (ie a set gambling line for two teams’ aggregate points scored) representing a huge chunk of wagers, an NBA official could very conceivably alter the final score and/or outcome of a game by calling or not calling inordinate numbers of fouls. If you watch this YouTube compilation of Donaghy and his crew calling Game 3 of this year’s Suns-Spurs series, you’ll see what I mean.

Seeing Donaghy make the latest call in NBA history for Manu Ginobili was enough to draw skepticism from both the ABC crew announcing the game as well as scores of reporters and journalists. Upon watching that entire reel from Game 3 (as well as the whole Suns-Spurs series) it is more than possible for one to come up with a variety of conspiracy theories of apparent crookedness with legitimate hard evidence to support a claim. I don’t want to speculate but I will expand on the implications of this scandal. I see a possible two-fold disaster pending for the league.

The first issue at hand is its awareness of the FBI investigation into Donaghy, which has been ongoing for nearly a year. There have been conflicting reports as to Stern’s knowledge about the federal probe, with the New York Times reporting most recently that he was not brought up to speed until after the Finals (although the New York Daily News reported that Donaghy’s neighbors in Pennsylvania were under the impression that a private investigator who was looking into Donaghy’s gambling proclivities a year ago was acting on behalf of the league). In short, if it surfaces that Stern had knowledge of any aspect of any investigation into Donaghy or Donaghy’s activities themselves and allowed him to continue calling games, this thing will snowball in the face of the commish.

Next is Donaghy himself. He will undoubtedly name names in either an effort to take heat off of himself or expose what could well be a greater referee-conspiracy. This is no doubt Stern’s worst nightmare. Whatever comes out of Donaghy’s mouth will double as a serious blow to the credibility and integrity of Stern and his league. In a statement made Tuesday Stern reinforced his belief that Donaghy was acting alone.

“We think we have a rogue, isolated criminal here,” said Stern.

Within this context Stern might as well have subbed the word “hope” for “think”, because at this point in the investigation that’s all he can really do. Once Donaghy turns himself in this week and the Feds tape recorders start rolling, this scandal could take yet another decisive turn for the ugly.

As ESPN.com’s Sportsguy aptly pointed out, this scandal is a story straight out of a Hollywood script. I agree with his vision of this imminent film, right until the ending. If this story truly followed a movie script everything would happen as Sportsguy laid out until the point where the ref (Matt Damon) is indicted and placed in protective custody while awaiting trial. At this juncture either the mob boss (Alec Baldwin) or the embattled commish (an always-shady Ron Silver) would give the word to “dispose” of the ref before the trial to avoid further damage down the line. The film would end with Damon getting approached by a few gun-toting thugs with silencers, and that would be that. A viewer would be left with the token question: was it the mob boss protecting his future interests or the corrupt-commish resorting to all and any measures to preserve his league? Both would have legitimate reasons to rid themselves of Damon and viewers could decide for themselves.

Hollywood and fiction aside, this scandal has opened a door into a dark and murky world usually left to be portrayed by art. But don’t be fooled: both the stakes and players in this devious and highly illegal scam are real, and it’s going to get a lot uglier before there is any resolution. Let’s just hope art sticks to imitating life and not the other way around.

MLB Points 7/17

The first week after the All Star break is usually a good indicator of how a team will perform in the second half. For already-contending teams it’s vital to slip back into a winning groove, while for underachievers the last 70 games can take on a rebirth of sorts. The two squads I highlighted as “big money sleepers” in my midseason report last week, the Cubs and Yankees, have clearly embraced the second installment of the season as a second life, as they’ve combined to go 8-1 since the All Star respite. Meanwhile, my pennant front-runners, the Mets and Red Sox, are a combined 6-4 over the last week, but most importantly both have reverted back to their respective bread and butter. Let’s expand on those thoughts.

Cubs They are men on a mission in Wrigleyville.  They have a coach, Lou Piniella, who has them believing they can’t lose. And he may just be right. The Cubs are the best team in baseball since June 1 (26-12), and have run off four straight to begin the second half. More impressive is the fashion in which they’ve won the games. First Carlos Zambrano threw 6.2 shutout innings against Houston, his seventh start in the last eight giving up two runs or less. In the second game Ted Lilly beat Roy Oswalt before the Cubs completed the three-game sweep by roaring back from a second-inning, 5-0 deficit to win 7-6. Finally, Rich Hill showed signs of returning to form as he pitched eight solid innings as Chicago beat the Giants 3-2. The Cubs are sniffing first place in the NL Central, and are closer to the Brewers (3.5 games) than they’ve been since April. Milwaukee has been playing mediocre baseball of late (6-8 since the end of June) and now their ace, Ben Sheets, has landed himself back on the DL and could be sidelined until late-August. Watch as the Cubs take over the lead in the NL Central in the next few weeks.

Yankees The time is now for the Yanks and they’ve responded. Obviously Yankees fans are (and have been) talking about 1978 and 2005. They won’t listen to me but I’ll spare the words: the AL East is lost. There will be no epic Sox collapse this year; no Bucky Dent reincarnate; no Matt Clement. In my opinion the Yankees should try comparing themselves to the 2004 Red Sox if anything. Here’s my rationale: the infamous Varitek-glove-in-A-Rod’s-face game was a watershed moment for the Red Sox, and a career-turning-point for A-Rod. Since that July-game in ’04 the Red Sox have had the upper hand in the rivalry, with Tek representing the bullying Red Sox and A-Rod the cowering-Yankees. The Yankees have not won a playoff series since The Comeback and A-Rod’s pitiful cumulative postseason performance (4-43 since Game 3 of the ’04 ALCS) has been one of the chief reasons. So what’s my point? A-Rod might have had his watershed moment for the Yankees last month. His statement-home run on ESPN against Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the ninth inning gave New York their most important victory over Boston since the late-September game that effectively clinched the ’05 AL East. That bomb represented two games in the standings (a possible 14.5 game lead became 12.5) and that game was the last time the two teams played before a two-month hiatus that they are currently in the middle of. Since that Sunday night A-Rod has been a monster and the Bombers have had their best extended stretch (23-14) but still have made up only 3.5 games (and the Sox have been playing poorly to boot). So the Yanks best bet is to remember ’04, grab up that wild card and try to come take back Fenway in the ALCS.

Mets The Metropolitans sputtered into the All Star break, with a pitching staff that seemed to get old overnight (even though it had been quite old for quite some time). Part of the problem was a lack of stability around the young staff-ace, John Maine. Another part of the problem was the absence of Oliver Perez. The Mets lost six of eight in the week and a half leading up to the All Star break, while giving up an average of seven runs a game during that period. Mets fans have been happy to see that the pitching staff has righted the ship on all fronts. Perez has returned healthy, and pitched a quality-six innings in his return to the mound in defeating the Reds. The elder statesmen, Tom Glavine and El Duque, both benefited from the time away as well, each winning their start while giving up two runs or less. Minus a hiccup from Maine in his first post-break start the Mets staff as a whole has taken back the reigns of the team, which is good news. Even better news is Pedro’s progress back from rotator cuff surgery. Of late he has been throwing as well as talking, which at its essence is the Pedro power-combo. He is scheduled to throw a second simulated game on Friday before embarking on a rehab assignment in the minors. All signs point to him returning to a pennant race in mid-August wearing an antagonistic smirk and boasting a reconstructed shoulder capable of throwing over 90. Time to start getting excited in Flushing.

Red Sox PHEW!! After watching Manny and Papi the last week I think Red Sox Nation has collectively exhaled. Our bash brothers in the middle (remember the tandem who’s only comparison is Ruth/Gehrig?) have at last begun to awake from their surreal power-slumber. In five games since the break Ortiz is hitting .429 (9-21) with two home runs, 7 RBI and five extra base hits. Manuel has hit at a .350 clip (7-20) with two blasts and 8 RBI. It’s hard to fathom the Red Sox doing much of anything without Manny and Ortiz throughout the stretch run and into the postseason. That said, they’ve gotten to where they are (56-36, still the best record in baseball) on the strength of their pitching staff and guys like Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis. With the middle of the lineup having finally returned to being the most fearsome in baseball and Curt Schilling making slow but steady progress back to the mound (he’s targeting the last day of July), this team is primed to shake off six weeks of very pedestrian baseball and start winning games in bunches again. And that, ladies and gentleman, is why the Yankees have absolutely zero chance of catching the Red Sox this year.

MLB Midseason Points

With the 78th All Star game on tap it’s about that time to divvy out some midseason awards, reassess World Series contenders (as well as a couple of big-money sleepers) and address the biggest burning question of this 2007 campaign. Let’s get to it.

AL MVP Alex Rodriguez

Some say Magglio Ordonez, others say Vlad or Ichiro. Duly noted. I say there’s no debate that A-Rod is the MVP so far this year. He’s hit 30 home runs, driven in 86 and scored 79. His slugging percentage is .665 and his OPS is 1.078. He leads all of MLB in each of the previously stated categories with the exception of OPS, in which he second to Bonds. Between walk-offs and late-inning go ahead hits A-Rod has singlehandedly accounted for more wins than any other player in baseball. Oh and his team happens to sit at a game under .500, ten games behind the Red Sox. Some say the Yankees are out of it, but not I (we’ll get to that). Regardless it’s a matter worthy of debate. What’s undebatable as well as indisputable is the fact that without A-Rod the only title the Yankees would be contending for would be that of “cellar dweller” in the AL East. He’s been that good. (And they’ve been that poor.)

NL MVP Jose Reyes

Prince Fielder, Chase Utley and Matt Holliday are all deserving but Reyes gets my vote. He had an MVP-like season last year and has gotten markedly better. Only his power numbers are down (4 home runs, 35 RBI). His on-base percentage has gone from .300 in ’05 to .354 in ’06 to .387 this year. He’s on pace for over 200 hits, 120 runs, 15 triples and 85 stolen bases (85!?!). He is the single most dynamic player in the game today and he’s carrying a first place team that has had its fair share of offensive woes. With Beltran and Delgado slow to hit their stride this season and Pedro in the middle of a furious rehabilitation from rotator cuff surgery, Reyes has been the glue that’s kept the Mets atop the NL East. In my opinion that’s an MVP.

AL Cy Young Johan Santana

Props to Josh Beckett, Dan Haren and C.C. Sabathia. All should be at the top of the Cy Young voting in the end. However my vote goes to Santana, not just because of what he has done (10-6/2.75/125 K’s), but what his track record indicates he will do in the second half of the season. For a team like Minnesota, which is traditionally built around strong pitching and defense, the Twins pitching has been very sub par this year. Santana, traditionally a slowish starter, has been the rock in a rotation that has allowed an uncharacteristic amount of runs. Since the Twins actually have some big boppers in the middle of the lineup they’ve been able to score runs, but it sure helps to have the best pitcher in baseball starting every fifth day. Santana’s the closest thing to Pedro ’97-2000 that we’ve seen in baseball, and like Pedro, saves his true dominance for after the All Star break.

NL Cy Young Jake Peavy

I don’t know about you but I’ve come to love the new segment on Baseball Tonight called “that’s nasty”. It’s basically the web gems for pitchers and I’m fairly positive Peavy has been featured in that bit more than any other hurler in the game this season. No matter what, he has no doubt been the nastiest pitcher in baseball this season. With a 9-3 record and 2.19 ERA, Peavy has silenced some critics and fantasy owners who were skeptical about him after an un-Peavy-like 2006 (11-14/4.09). This year he’s leading the NL in strikeouts with 125, and included was a stretch during which he fanned 46 over four starts. Nasty. He’s also the best pitcher on the team (San Diego) with the best record in the National League (although a hearty honorable mention goes to his staff-mate, Chris Young).

AL World Series Contenders Tigers, Indians, Angels, Red Sox

At least three, maybe all four of these teams will be playing in October, which will make the American League pennant race lots of fun down the stretch and into the playoffs. All four have aces at the tops of their pitching staffs and bashers in the middle of their lineups. All but the Indians are playoff-tested. As for prospective playoff rotations, if Curt Schilling comes back healthy the Red Sox would have the best front three (Dice-K, Schilling, Beckett) of any contender (followed by Detroit, Anaheim and Cleveland). With Manny, Papi and Papelbon, that keeps the Sox put as my favorite to go to the Series.

Big Money Sleeper Yankees

I reiterate: if it were not for Alex Rodriguez the 2007 season would already be a distant memory in New York. At this moment the Yankees would’ve already been fish in a bucket. Then they would’ve found themselves staging a $200 million fire sale at the trading deadline. Finally, come October Derek Jeter would’ve joined Johnny Pesky as the only other guy suiting up for a game he’s not allowed to participate in. What coulda/shoulda/woulda been without A-Rod is moot. The guy’s having a season for the ages and saving a franchise that he doesn’t have a whole lotta love for and vice versa. Let’s put it this way: if the Yankees don’t turn it around and win 92-95 games they are no longer “the Yankees”. Simple as that.

NL World Series Contenders Mets, Brewers, Dodgers

I maintain that the National League pennant is the Mets’ to lose. They will be the team standing in the way of other World Series hopefuls, and will have to be beaten into submission in order to be thwarted for a second consecutive year. That said, the Brewers have an MVP candidate in the middle of their lineup, an ace at the top of their staff and stopper in the bullpen. That’s a team built for the long haul. Out west where pitching is prevalent I’m sticking with the Dodgers, simply because they have more pop in the middle of their lineup than the Padres. Although I still think the Mets’ most serious competition will come from a certain big money sleeper…

Big Money Sleeper Cubs

Talk about a roller coaster ride. First Lou Piniella said he had never coached a team with more talent than the Cubs. Then they started sucking like the Cubs tend to do. Then they hit rock bottom when Carlos Zambrano beat the snot out of his back-talking catcher for botching a play. Since then they’ve unloaded the enigmatic-Michael Barrett and been the best team in the National League over the last month (22-12). Zambrano meanwhile, has redirected his haymakers towards opposing hitters and reverted back to being the anchor of a deep rotation. Alfonso Soriano has awoken and Derek Lee is healthy so no worries about the Cubbies’ offense. With Sweet Lou at the helm and uncanny adversity in the rear view, watch out for the Cubs.

Biggest Burning Question of 2007 What’s the deal with the Dominicans?

They are the most dominant ensemble of sluggers in the game today. In last spring’s inaugural World Baseball Classic they became collectively known as “the most fearsome lineup in the history of baseball”. Individually they are better known as Alfonso Soriano, Vlad Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. Each of them have hit at least 38 home runs three times or more in their respective careers. All except Soriano have had multiple 40+ home run seasons. Yet at this All Star break only one of them (Pujols) is on track to crack even 30 bombs. Pujols is sitting on 16; Soriano has 15; Papi and Vlad have hit 14 a piece while Manny is chugging along with 11 big ones. So I ask again: what’s the deal? My guess is as good as yours. I do know that health issues aside the long balls will start to come in droves for this quintet. I mean they have to, right? Unless Bud Selig secretly unwound the baseballs to thwart Barry Bonds all I have to say is that we’re in for quite a show from the DR contingent this second half.

Paul Pierce/Celtics Points

Back in the day the Boston Globe had a contest to determine the eventual nickname of Paul Pierce, “The Truth”. My submission was “Pauly Prime Time”, because he was easily the most clutch player I’d ever seen don the legendary green and white. Sure, I watched Larry Bird at the end of his career but I (along with my entire generation) was too young to really appreciate the great Bird/McHale/Parish teams. For us Celtic pride was a concept passed down through anecdotes and mementos. We were told stories of triumph about the Celtics of the 80s, but after the ’86 title (the Green’s last to date) those stories turned tragic. The sudden deaths of Len Bias in ’86 (cocaine overdose) and Reggie Lewis in ’93 (heart failure) assured the Celtics of their first prolonged fling with futility in the history of the franchise. For the older generations this was a hard pill to swallow. 16 championships in 30 years gave way to multiple seasons in the mid 90s that saw the Celtics trot out the likes of Dino Radja and Dana Barros as “franchise players”.

From total greatness to total insignificance went the Celtics in less than a decade. I grew up during this period of insignificance; watched the Celtics during the week on local television and waited for the NBA on NBC to show me some real basketball on Sundays. I then watched a crazy-eyed college coach take over the team, infuse it with players from his former school, and drive it even further into the ground. When he finally exited his legacy was left in a sound bite. Thing was, we already knew that Bird, Parish and McHale weren’t going to be making miracle comebacks in the late 90s; we just happened to have a coach who was pompous enough to employ that mode of justification for his team’s failure. Maybe if in his inaugural press conference Rick Pitino had opted to tell us who was going to be “walking through that door” (namely Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and the rest of the freakin Kentucky Wildcats) we would’ve been better prepared for what was to come.

Either way it wasn’t until we drafted a sleek shooter out of Kansas in ’98 that I even started to comprehend what it meant to have a guy who could fill up a box score, put a team on his back and inspire the masses. In Paul we found that guy. All he had was Antoine, but the two meshed well together, enjoyed the city they played in and brought some relevance back to an ever-fading tradition. Then some pieces of s–t tried to take that away from us in 2001, tried to murder our first star in more than ten years. Not only did they fail, not only did Paul survive 11 stab wounds but he returned to lead the Celtics to 49 wins and their first birth in the playoffs since Larry Legend. They won nine games that postseason, all thanks to Paul. His surreal decisive-Game 5 (46 points) in the first round against Allen Iverson and the 76ers was one-upped only by his pantheon performance in the Fleet Center’s first Eastern Conference Finals game against New Jersey. In that contest the Celtics entered the fourth quarter trailing by 21 points. Paul responded by playing the most jaw-dropping 12 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen, slashing into that deficit with 19 points of his own to win the game and snag a slice of history. That one playoff run, with those two games intertwined, was good enough to place Paul at the top of lists in Celtics-record books co-populated by some of the greatest and most prolific champions in the history of the game.

2002 was the year I became a true Celtics fan; the year when history and lore met reality head on. We had a guy who if complemented by the right player, could and most definitely would lead us to that elusive 17th championship. Of course being a realist and having a decent grasp on the state of the game I knew there was obviously no chance Shaq would bolt LA for Beantown, same for Duncan and Garnett from their respective cities. But I knew something would happen, someone would be brought in so at the very least we’d be given the chance to continue to be exhilarated by this young superstar. It took him only a handful of games in the ’02 playoffs to make a decisive case for his meriting a co-star, a fixture with which to coexist for years to come. Five years and five great “Pauly Prime” seasons later, I found myself still waiting. I found myself defiling sports “fandom” by rooting for my team to lose, if only to have a better chance at winning some bogus lottery. Then when all went wrong I found myself feeling..not distraught, not demoralized or crappy, just feeling. I was feeling for Paul. It all came in a wave, the realization of how unfair it all was. This guy, who had given and endured so much to stay true to the city and tradition that took him in, was now inexplicably himself feeling the dusk of his career start to settle in just over the horizon.

It was then that I decided this: to hell with “the future”; screw “down the road”. Even if philosophically it contradicts everything Danny Ainge has done since arriving in Boston I still don’t care. It’s already a shame that Paul has played nine seasons in Boston and has had a total of one contending team around him. It would go down as an utter travesty if that number stayed the same throughout seasons 10 through 13 of Paul’s career. So that’s why I endorsed wholesaling our youth for Kevin Garnett, because each year of KG/Paul would represent 50 wins and who knows what else. And that’s why I’m on the Ray Allen for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the 5th-bandwagon. From what I’ve heard and read the city of Boston is pretty much split down the middle on this one, but the bulk of the negativity is driven by the sports radio juggernauts who hold way too much sway over popular opinion in the town. Many of them are very high on the player the Celtics drafted and gave to Seattle, Jeff Green (from Georgetown).

Allow me to assert that I had been lobbying for Jeff Green since we got hosed by the lottery while the likes of Corey Brewer and the Chinese guy were dominating the discussion. I’ve been a huge Big East fan and I’ve watched this kid for three years be constricted by the conservative brand of ball John Thompson III has brought back to the Hoyas’ system. Make no mistake; Jeff Green will be a dynamic and explosive player in this league but he never really had a chance to come out of his shell at Georgetown, and will need more maturation time than a guy like Brewer. So we deal him and two decent players for a soon-to-be 32 year old shooting guard with two reconstructed ankles. There’s your reason in a nutshell for the skepticism that exists.

Here’s the flip side to that coin: seven-time All Star; career 21.5 scoring average; career three point percentage of .397 (that last stat is best interpreted when juxtaposed with Antoine’s career .325). He’s a product of the Northeast as he spent three years at UConn and has maintained his roots (he’s already declared himself a Red Sox fan). Ray, like Paul, is coming off a stretch in his career where he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with in the jungle that is the West. Like Paul he never complained, always played with a smile on his face and continued being the long range assassin that he’s been since he took to the hardwood. And like Paul, he plays with a distinct passion and rises to the occasion when the occasion warrants it (translation: when the game’s on the line he wants that rock). All and all he’s the guy Paul deserves to have as his wingman and yes, while it would’ve been nice if this had happened five years ago, I have news for you: it didn’t. Nothing has happened in the past five years and no one knows that better than Paul. Furthermore, unlike colleagues of similar stature he’s never used his spotlight to shake down front offices and toss around ultimatums, and when he’s called for change he’s done so respectfully. Granted, at times he’s been angry, but he’s only human, not to mention a fierce competitor who tasted a morsel of postseason glory as an up and comer.

In this post-Jordan era where eight out of nine champions have had Shaq or Duncan, the idea of “building a championship team” is farcical. And in this day and age where one big acquisition can jettison a team from the bottom to the top of the sorry-East, and you just happen to be a reeling franchise with a superstar who’s been begging for a wingman, is it really a question? With a nucleus of Paul, Ray and one of the few emerging big men in the conference, Al Jefferson, the Atlantic division and a top-four seed is ripe for the taking. Does that mean number 17 is imminent? I would say not. But there’s got to be some middle ground between “rebuilding” and “championship caliber”, right? If not then someone should send the memo to ummmm EVERY TEAM IN THE EAST!!!

As I said before, to my generation the Celtics as they were previously known were nothing more than a myth with historical documentation. Paul pulled the franchise out of the sediment upon his arrival in ’98 and restored some relevance in ’02. He only had one opportunity to chase a championship and came up six games short. However the finest work of his basketball life has been done in the NBA Playoffs, on the legendary-parquet floor of the Boston Celtics, with 16 world championship banners hanging over his head. It may be a while before the Celtics capture that seventeenth but Paul’s time here is finite. And you know something? There’s a lot I would give to see Paul have the chance to win another nine playoff games. Wally and Jeff Green? Done and done.