Garnett in Green: But at What Cost?

July 31, 2007

Last summer, when the Celtics were lusting after Allen Iverson, a team executive pondered the potential effects of such a move and, with eyes wide open, offered the operative word from management's point of view: ``Relevance.''

Thirteen months later, the term as it relates to the club has become nauseating. It is now repeated with such alarming frequency that it seems as if its meaning is lost.

Yes, Kevin Garnett earns the Celtics more than a passing mention on the radio talk shows. Yes, Kevin Garnett with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen means more national attention. And yes, the Celtics season ticket-holders no longer face the threat of drug testing when they pay their large bills.

But one should not forget in all this rush to popularity that the only true currency of relevance is winning. The rest just fades away.

If the starry group that director of basketball operations Danny Ainge puts together proceeds to win big in the Eastern Conference, as well as scare some people west of the Mississippi, then no one will make sarcastic comments about his ``vision.'' If it makes some rhinestone runs in the postseason but is ultimately no threat to the NBA Finals, then Celtics followers will be left to lament a mortgaged future.

It doesn't matter whether the deal is right and proper under the present circumstances. Ainge is paid to know how his players will develop, and if he says that the Celtics will do better with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the short term than Al Jefferson and draft picks in the long, then we will await the results and judge him accordingly.

Wins - not national TV appearances - will decide. All the ``relevance'' and kids wearing Garnett jerseys won't amount to a Beacon Hill of beans unless victories are part of the equation.

The NBA already is deep into its scheduling process, but you can be certain that changes are being made at the request of ABC, ESPN and TNT in order to get the Celtics into their windows. The C's will be must ``C'' as they put three All-Stars in a beaker and seek a successful blend. They even can afford to stagger a bit out of the gate as they get to know each other and deal with a roster that suddenly has a serious lack of depth.

But if at the dawning of 2008, the Celts are listing toward just another teamhood, then the relevance will turn on them.

You may recall the lads were a fairly notable bunch this past season as they challenged franchise records for losing and took a three-and-a-half somersault into the lottery tank. It was attention that rankled the Green masses, who at least had dancing girls to look at.

The present tense will be better, but one cannot say with total certainty how much the Celtics are giving up down the line to take their shot. They should be significantly improved the next few years, but it is not yet known whether that will be enough to cushion the blow of watching Al Jefferson reel off double-doubles when Kevin Garnett is lounging poolside in Malibu, Calif.

There are serious downsides here that we know Ainge considered, but the lure of getting one of the top players in the game obviously outweighed those worries. And if you're still concerned about Garnett, understand that he has never played with anyone as good as Paul Pierce or Ray Allen and that he immediately makes the Celtics a far better defensive team.

And, indeed, it will be a team that people will want to see and discuss. For the long-suffering fan, it will be like having your local band go national. Remember when you found out people in Cleveland liked Aerosmith and, several years later, Boston and New Edition? There was some pride in having early position on the bandwagon, but even their success is measured in consistent winning. Aerosmith has stood the test of time, while Boston's early flame fizzled into a cautionary tale. New Edition became more notable for its spinoffs and reality shows.

If Garnett has a jeweled shamrock championship ring on his finger as he sips his post-career California cocktail, Ainge will have no problem getting a tee time at The Country Club. If not, you'll be hitting him over the head with Al Jefferson on his way back to Arizona.

The judgment will be stark. When history looks back on this time, the only relevant question will be whether the Celtics won.

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