The Boston Celtics played 116 games last year, and were locked and loaded from August of 2007 until June of 2008. That’s a long, long time to maintain such a high level of intensity. They started the season 29-3 and finished the regular season almost as hot. The playoffs were grueling. By the time the Finals ended, it was unclear how many healthy bodies the Celtics could even put on the floor.
Having accomplished their goal last year and facing the grind of another long season next year, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Celtics started the season a little more slowly this year. In fact, let’s be honest. There ain’t no way, no how that the 2008-09 Boston Celtics will come out of the gate 29-3 again. Just ain’t gonna happen. And there ain’t no way that there gonna go 66-16 again. They’ll be hard pressed to win even 60. Last year they swept the Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets, and Spurs. Chances of that happening again are slim to none.
This isn’t the end of the world, however. Bill Russell’s Celtics won 11 championships, and only won 60 or more games three times, twice in years they also won titles. The key to winning a championship is building a cohesive unit that plays with a fire to win (and talent, of course).
This is where replacing James Posey and PJ Brown with Bill Walker, JR Giddens, Tony Allen, Darius Miles, and Patrick O'Bryant may payoff.
It's not that James Posey and PJ Brown weren't competitive or didn't want to win. They did. But if you bring back the exact same team, players tend to get comfortable with each other and comfortable with the coaches. They start to tune out, figuring they've heard it all before and don't need to listen as closely. It's really only the games that count. Check that, it's only the big games that count. No, it's really only the playoffs that count. And so on.
That's not how the Boston Celtics play basketball. So the infusion of a little bit of youth and energy may just be what the Doc(tor) ordered.
And it's not just youth. What we need are PHDs (apologies for using a Pitinoism), players who are poor, hungry, and driven. Last year every member of the Celtics roster was focused on one goal--banner 17. PJ Brown got his. James Posey got his.
Would they be as driven this year? We all know Posey comes up big in important games. But what about the other 75 games that aren't so important? Would he bring it to those games? Remember, Pat Riley suspended him for being out of shape (exceeding body fat limits) the year after Posey won a championship with the Heat. Posey also had a chip on his shoulder after not getting the contract he wanted last summer.
You bring Posey and Brown back and maybe they pace themselves, maybe they don't have the same chip on their shoulders. Meanwhile, both Giddens and Walker have talked about the disappointment of once being projected as Lottery picks and now having something to prove after they fell so far in the draft. O'Bryant has been lambasted for his poor work ethic. Miles for being a knucklehead. All four of them have something to prove. Will they be motivated to do so? It's a risk. But bringing back Posey and Brown would have carried risks, too, just different risks.
Tony Allen, while not new, is still young. At 26, Allen's career has been up and down, to say the least. He shows promise one minute, and disappoints or gets injured the next. He only signed a two year contract, and he'll be heading into the prime years of his professional career (barring injury) when this contract expires. Depending on the length of the next contract, it might be his only chance at a good pay day. You don't think he'll be motivated to play well in Boston over the next two seasons?
The point here is that every year is different, and even winning teams with identical rosters must work hard to maintain chemistry and success across different seasons. Just ask the 2004-05 Minnesota Timberwolves. Complacency and attitude problems killed that team, sending them to the Lottery a year after they had made the WCFs.
In the end, being a successful GM is more like being a chef than being a scientist. Building winning basketball teams is about finding the right ingredients on the floor and not about making things look exactly right on paper.