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Garnett and Marbury: Déjà Vu for the Celts?

I’m an optimist.   Prefer to glean the positives from what might otherwise be construed as a negative situation.

I can’t help it.  Optimism is entrenched in my sports psyche.  It’s the reason I grew up believing every year was THE year for the Red Sox, the reason I stayed sane in New York post-XLII.

So while many view Kevin Garnett’s (temporary) absence and Stephon Marbury’s (probable) arrival as possible death blows to Boston’s chances of a repeat, I see a pair of blessings in disguise — reinforced by a recurring sense of déjà vu.

The knee injury Garnett sustained in a Feb. 19 game at Utah sent shock waves through Celtics nation, and justifiably so.  The fact that he injured the knee on a non-contact maneuver — in this case, going up for an alley-oop — was a major cause for concern.  Ligament and tendon damage can often result from slightly mistimed lateral or vertical movements.  Fortunately he merely strained a muscle behind the knee, an injury he could have played through.  And he tried to.

Needless to say Danny Ainge did not allow that to happen and the team is taking no chances going forward, which means the Big Ticket will likely sit out another eight or so games in addition to the pair he’s already missed.  Does this scenario sound familiar?  It should, as the same thing happened around the same time last year.  On Jan. 25 Garnett strained an abdominal muscle and missed nine games between Jan. 27 and Feb. 19. The Celtics won seven of them.

He returned healthier and refreshed.  You know the rest.

It’s well documented how KG only has one speed: turbo.  To him cruise control is synonymous with being stuck in the breakdown lane.  When you consider that even with the respite he still played 97 games last year (second only to the 100 games he played in 2003-04), it might have been wise to shelf him for a period of time regardless.  That his freakish body has again sounded a faint warning bell might indeed be that blessing in disguise.  It surely was last year.

Unless he reaggravates the injury down the stretch (which would be quite a pessimistic way of looking at things), this mandated down time will end up paying great dividends when the Celtics embark on what’s sure to be another deep playoff run.

As for Marbury, call him what you want — bad teammate, enigma, self-centered, classless — and the New York media certainly has, but the man really has everything to gain from joining the Celtics.  The Celtics, in turn, have pretty much nothing to lose.  If he works out, super.  If not, they can cut ties while assuming minimal financial loss.

Remember Sam Cassell?

While Cassell’s career accomplishments overshadow Marbury’s, speaking purely from a style of play and team chemistry standpoint the two are mirror images of one another.  In their heyday both players were All-Star caliber, shoot-first point guards with a surplus of hubris.

Last March Cassell came into a close-knit and role-defined locker room, ball(s)-in-hand.  The fear was his ego and chucking mentality would be injurious.  After hitting some big shots in the regular season and again in the first round against Atlanta, the chucking became a problem against Cleveland and Cassell played sparingly for the remainder of the playoffs.  He did not, however, threaten the team chemistry.  In that regard he put his ego aside in the name of winning a ring.

Cassell — at age 38 — had nothing to prove except that he could become an auxiliary piece on a championship team.

Marbury, on the other hand, is playing for a lot more.  He wants to win his first playoff series en route to his first title.  At 32, he has a golden opportunity to lock up a final big contract.  A successful run with Boston and he’ll be in position for one last substantial payday.

Above all, maybe, he wants to stick it to New York.  To the front office he believes treated him unfairly.  To the teammates he thinks tossed him under the bus.  To the fans who turned on him.  And to the media, which has been unrelenting with its venom-injected headlines and protracted condemnations of the man they once deemed “Starbury”.

He has a beef to settle with New York, and what better place to do it than the one place that despises anything and everything “New Yaaawk”?

Irony would have it that the Celtics and Knicks have developed one of the coldest rivalries in the league, if you can call it that.  (A rivalry, that is.)  The teams nearly came to blows last season when Quentin Richardson and Paul Pierce were ejected from a game at Madison Square Garden.  Afterwards Richardson fanned the flames with some choice postgame remarks.  They have yet to make amends.

Richardson has had no qualms about voicing his opinion on the Marbury matter as well. This past November he ripped Marbury after the disgruntled star refused to play when the team was shorthanded and calling for his services.

In response to the incident, Knicks president Donnie Walsh formally banished Marbury from the team on Dec. 1.  Add it up and seems like the enemy of Stephon Marbury’s enemy is about to become his new friend.  That should immediately help the chemistry-building process with the Celtics.

Given all that, who really thinks the guy is going to ride into Boston on his high horse and reprise his role as a defiant, obstinate distraction?  Not I.

But take that with a grain of salt.

I am, after all, a self-professed optimist.

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