The Cincinnati Reds acquired Ken Griffey, Jr., before the 1999-2000 season. If you aren't a Reds fan (and I suspect most Celtics' fans are not), let me just say that the excitement in Cincinnati that spring was as over-the-top as the excitement surrounding Celtics during the summer of 2007 when the C's acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The Big Red Machine was finally returning to Ohio, was the shared belief. Never really happened. Part of the reason is in baseball, one player is just that, one of eight, nine if you count the pitcher, more if you count the relievers.
Basketball is a peculiar sport in that adding one player can make all the difference in the world. Sure, there are 15 players on an NBA roster. But adding one really good player to an also ran can catapult the also ran into contender status.
The Lakers may have provided the best example of this when they went from an above average team during the first half of the 2007-08 season to world beaters in the second half simply by adding Pau Gasol to the roster. Only a far superior Celtics' team prevented the Ls from winning another championship.
Another NBA offseason that interests me is the one that preceded the Boston Celtics 2009-10 regular season. That was the summer we added Rasheed Wallace to the mix. If you look back at the roster, we didn't do much else. Yes, Kevin Garnett was expected to be healthy for the first time in two years, after missing the playoffs the previous season with a knee injury.
Yes, we acquired Nate Robinson during the middle of the season and later added Michael Finley. But again the mere addition of one player -- Sheed -- had many a pundit talking about the Celtics posting 70 regular season wins that year. Although the C's got out to another fast start (20-4) they ended the season with only 50 regular season wins. Of course, the Green recovered nicely in the playoffs, making it to the Finals, only to lose in 7 games to the Lakers.
Which brings me to the current off-season.
I will probably discuss current off-season over a few pieces and then over a few months. I actually have a couple of drafts in the can. Just not sure whether I will use them or how.
One theme I plan to explore is the idea of "difference makers." I began the summer by arguing that the Celtics' off-season would be judged by whether they added enough of these to compete with the Miami's of the world. Now that the Celtics have filled out their roster, it is fair to ask:
Did the Boston Celtics add one or more players who can make a difference in big games, particularly the playoffs, when their aging stars just don't have enough left in the tank to get it done?
This isn't an easy question to answer.
On paper, you have to like the additions.
If you look at the box score from the last playoff game against the Heat, the Celtics starters all logged heavy minutes. The only reserve who played more than 10 minutes was Mickael Pietrus. If the season started today, the Celtics would have the luxury of a much deeper bench. But a deeper bench on paper doesn't mean much if they all disappoint on court like Rasheed Wallace did in 2010 (are like Shaq and JO a year later). Make no mistake, we do have some significant question marks.
Will Avery Bradley pick up where he left off before getting injured? Can Jeff Green take it to the next level? Can Jared Sullinger add some rebounding muscle that has been missing from the Celtics since they won the championship in 2008 (I'm assuming the answer is to this question is "no" for Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox)? Can Courtney Lee and Jason Terry play at a high level, keeping defenses honest, and making it easier for Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett do their things?
I'm not trying to be a killjoy, but I think we need to temper our excitement. I've been watching this team a long time, and I've only had a near certain feeling of championship twice: before the 1986 and 2008 seasons. Even during the summer of Sheed I realized that a lot of pieces needed to fall into place before we'd be raising banner 18 (Indeed, take a look at my pre-season forecast here).
A couple of things I really like about this offseason that wasn't true in 2010. The players Danny added this time, for the most part, aren't old players. Jason Terry is 35, and if he were the only addition, I wouldn't be excited at all. Courtney Lee is 26, Chris Wilcox is 29, Jeff Green is 26, and Jared Sullinger is 20 (you could argue that Green and Wilcox aren't new, but they certainly weren't part of the C's playoff roster last year). Part-time role player Jason Collins is 34, but at that age a part-time, situational gig (think Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, etc) is perfect for him. Sheed might even have been more productive had our expectations not been so huge. Fab Melo, 22, may be sent to D-League to start the season, but may rear his head in some capacity before the Celtics' conclude their 82-game schedule.
You throw in Rajon Rondo (26) and Brandon Bass (27) and all of a sudden a Celtic team that depends on Kevin Garnett (36) and Paul Pierce (35) looks a little different. Geritol will not necessarily be a main staple shared among the players as it might have been had our only moves been to keep Ray Allen and added Jason Terry.
I'm not willing to give the C's off-season an A (I'm a tough grader). I've only given two off-seasons that grade (1985 and 2007). But it gets a solid B to B+, with room for revision as the season moves on (NOTE: I'm not nearly as impressed by the Lakers off-season as many of you. Signing a 39-year-old point guard who couldn't defend Rondo four years ago has a significant downside). Doc will need to work his magic, and it sounds like he really liked last year's team, much of which is returning. A lot of the new guys are "Doc guys," too, by which I mean tough, gritty, competitive, with chips on their shoulders.
The other question that comes to mind is whether an off-season should ever be graded as anything above a B+ if by the offseason moves the Celtics still are not favorites to win the NBA title (and you'll see tomorrow the Green are definitely not favorites to win it all)? I'm not sure that A-level off-season grades should be assigned for anything less than moves that vault the C's into the category of a top-three title contender.
Are you confident that just happened?