With two games against the Boston Celtics this week I swapped out Q & As with Steve Weinman from CelticsBlog. Here are Steve's answer to my questions about the defending champs.
Indy Cornrows: This may sound strange, but considering all of the celebrity talent on the roster and the fact that they are the defending champs, the Celtics seem to be flying under the radar. Despite their 14-2 record, more of the national attention seems focused on the contenders like the Lakers, LeBron and the Cavs, the Hornets and the rising Blazers. Last year the C's were THE story throughout the year. The questions was: Could the talented trio with no rings come together and win a title? Of course, the answer was, YES and they can make you look silly in the process. So the Big Three aren't the big story this year, but has the season been as drama-free as it appears from outside New England? If so, that has to be a good thing, right?
Steve W: Tom, some of my readers are going to get a hearty laugh out of the fact that anyone believes the season has been drama-free so far. I think as a nearly-unbreakable sports rule, it's never drama-free. Our boys are 17-2, and already the team has already heard (among other things) questions about why this team keeps getting off to slow starts and having to claw back for too-close wins in the second half and a debate among the fan base featuring a (thankfully small) faction that was legitimately ready to jump ship on 22-year-old Rajon Rondo after a slump to start the season, of which he recently broke out in a big way. There are always questions and some complaining, but that's not a bad thing - after all, what fun would our forums be without something to gripe about? Until the team is perfect, there will always be room to improve, and there will always be discussions about how to get to that point.
That being said, I do think it's important that we as Celtics fans take some time every now and then to take a step back and realize what an incredible ride this has been. To think about my mindset as a fan two years ago at this point and what it is now, wow. It's a joy to be rooting for the defending champions, and to have already started 17-2 in the second year of the Eddie House Era (as this time in Celtics history shall heretofore be known), well, as a fan it feels like playing with house money. Pardon the pun. Please.
Indy Cornrows: James Posey was huge in the playoffs, especially the Finals, for the C's last year. How is Tony Allen doing in filling the role Posey played last year? Are any other players stepping up to help fill the void?
Steve W: As CelticsBlog loyalists will be happy to tell you, I'm a devout believer in the omnipotence of Big Game James. He became my favorite player last season thanks to his ever-present poise and his ability to embody the concept of playing for the name on the front of the jersey rather than the back (did this guy ever lose a 50-50 ball?). I was definitely bummed to see him go this summer. That said, as Celtics fans will tell you - and I agree - replacing Pose isn't a one-man job on this team. He's a special sort of role player in this league, and we don't have someone with a parallel skill set to his at this point. The team is going to need different skills at different times off the bench, and everyone from TA to House to Leon Powe and the Infuriated Infant to, yes, even Brian Scalabrine, is being asked to chip in.
That said, TA is the guy whose role was expected to increase the most, and it's been an up-and-down endeavor so far. He is attacking the rim hard and putting up nine points per game off the bench at a true shooting clip of 56.3 percent - not bad for a guy who still doesn't have much of a jump shot. His turnovers are down, and he continues to work his tail off defensively. But he is a bit undersized as a defensive wing at 6-4 (really better suited to playing the two as a result), and he still suffers at times from the bouts of headlessness that frustrated C's fans throughout his first four seasons - this guy fouls more three-point shooters than I've ever seen. All that in mind, I was among the very skeptical about an increased role for TA at the beginning of the season, and I've been pleasantly surprised so far and remain cautiously optimistic going forward.
Indy Cornrows: When Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen were brought together the conventional wisdom was that the Celtics were trying to win right now and they'd have a two or three year window to get it done. Well, so far so good with two years (including this year) left to go. What about the long term outlook, though? KG should be around for a few more years and Pierce as well, but which players will be core players leading the team in 5 or 6 years?
Steve W: Honestly - and my apologies for this- I don't have a clue. Celtics fans spent more than a decade hearing about the vast indefinite concept of the "future." Tanking for the future. Stockpiling picks and talent for the future. Dumping salary for the future. Bringing in expiring contracts for the future. But on July 31, 2007, that future officially became the now in Boston. The acquisition of Garnett was a clear sign that this team was ready to be focused on winning. Now. Right now. You saw how that worked out last year, and we've seen how it's going thus far this season. To that end, I just want to enjoy this to the maximum for as long as it lasts - these periods don't last forever, and given the Celts' approach, I want to make sure I live in the now as a fan with this team. I'll worry about tomorrow sometime down the road (though I hope Danny Ainge is a bit more concerned than I am), but no matter what happens, it will all be gravy after the magic of the past season.
Further, the other issue for me is that it's really difficult to objectively evaluate this team's young talent. If I learned anything over these 15 years of losing, it's that it is extremely easy to get suckered in to one's own team's young talent without really rationally understanding those players' worth by any objective measure. How good is Leon Powe? He's one of my favorite players on this team because he epitomizes the word 'relentless,' but is he a starter in this league one day? Does anyone know what Pugnacious Papoose Davis is really worth? I'm excited about Billy Walker, but he's less barely a month into his NBA career and currently working in the D-League. So for now, I'll enjoy watching these young guys as role players and energy guys for this team, and I'll keep putting off thinking about the future. This time as a fan is too special to spend looking ahead.
Indy Cornrows: Any areas of concern the C's need to shore up for another title run?
Steve W: In the Commandments of Fanhood, I'm sure there is one that states, "Thou shalt always be neurotic, no matter how good thy team." So, yes, there are concerns, many of which I'm may not be evident until the playoffs. This team is clearly good enough to win a significant quantity of games during the regular season, but the loss of someone like James Posey - his composure, his leadership, his toughness - is the type of thing that could loom much larger in the playoffs...but then again, who knows how much TA will have developed by then? Or if Bill Walker will be playing some rotation minutes...or - I'm serious, I promise - maybe Scal will be giving us just enough at the reserve wing. Not to make up for James, but at least to prevent his loss from coming back to bite this team. Similarly, the Celts can get away with their situation in the frontcourt through the regular season, but it would be wonderful to have another big, particularly one who can moonlight at the five a bit (the Baby is a bit short there). Patrick O'Bryant has been underwhelming so far, and Doc Rivers has gone on record differentiating between "Celtics speed" and "Patrick speed." Not a good sign. I'd welcome P.J. Brown back with open arms come springtime. And I'm still wishing there were a way that Antonio McDyess could have been brought in - that would have been huh-yuge.
All that said, please, don't get the idea that I'm some ingrate - there are concerns, but again, there are always concerns as a fan. It's our job to be over-analytic to some extent. But I'm quite thrilled with how this team has come out of the gate, especially because I think this Celtics team as currently constructed is still playing at a level far from its best basketball, and that's a chillingly good feeling.