The local breast-beating and garment-rending over the Celtics'
third-place finish in Sunday's lottery has been of championship caliber.
Glad to see this town still has what it takes to lead the world in
wallowing in self-pity.
Howls are loud and long that the Rick Pitino
era is over before it begins. Thanks to Tim Duncan, the San Antonio
Spurs will be NBA champs in perpetuity as soon as Michael Jordan
retires. Duncan will become the last great center in history. Americans
are shrinking. We're not producing coordinated 7-footers anymore.
But recent history argues against the doomsayers. Even assuming that
Duncan will become the supreme pivot man of his time, even granting the
pessimists their extraordinary genetic forecast, one lottery
disappointment has not ended the Celtics' chances of returning to glory.
The game has changed. A team still needs at least two Hall of Fame
players to win a title. But one of them need not play center.
Bill Russell's rookie season through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's last title
in 1988, an immortal center was indeed a prerequisite for an NBA
championship. In those 32 seasons, the league champ had a Hall of Fame
or certain future Hall of Fame center 29 times.
the eight years since then, ever since the Pistons' first championship
in 1989, the NBA champ had a surefire Hall of Fame center only twice, in
1994 and '95, when the Rockets won with Hakeem Olajuwon. Those were the
years Michael Jordan was taking his sabbatical.
Thomas and Jordan, along with the shortened 3-point line, altered pro
basketball's dynamic. If a team has a very great forward and a very
great guard, it can win with a center who's merely competent.
two winningest teams in the league this season were the Bulls and Jazz.
Their respective starting centers are Luc Longley and Greg Ostertag.
the next generation's equivalent to the likes of Jordan, John Stockton
and Karl Malone is obviously an incredibly difficult proposition for Pitino and the Celts. But missing out on Duncan doesn't make it impossible.
tells us that if the legitimate center is becoming an extinct species,
forwards and guards will provide more of the sport's dominant players,