The Celtics' incumbency as Eastern Conference champs hasn't persuaded many observers they can return to the NBA Finals in 2011. For the Celtics (and their fans), the overwhelming support for Miami as the favorites in the East has provoked indifference and indignation. A veteran team like Boston isn't apt to gripe about respect, but Celtic Pride also runs deep and the C's aren't about to be written off in favor of a team that has yet to play a game.
At ESPN Boston, Chris Forsberg writes that nobody is challenging the idea that Miami's Big 3 -- each in the prime of his career -- is more prolific than Boston's Big 3. But the Celtics worked hard this offseason to shore up their reserve unit. As a result, the 2010-11 Celtics are a much deeper team than we're accustomed to seeing:
...[W]hile Miami stole all the offseason headlines this year, the Celtics are hanging their hat on a below-the-radar offseason in which they assembled what they believe is the deepest team in the league.
And if you're talking about a Battle of Big 15s, the Celtics like their chances.
Quietly, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge took a team that was six minutes shy of its 18th world championship last June and not only kept its veteran core intact (re-upping Pierce and Allen among 11 offseason signings), but also, with limited resources, brought in the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Delonte West to shore up an inconsistent bench.
The Celtics now have the luxury of trotting out a second unit that could challenge many starting units in the league (Boston's starters have learned that firsthand during practices).
So, even with Boston's star three nearing the twilight of their NBA careers, the Celtics have as much optimism as the day the trio was united.
While a couple members of the Celtics' core acknowledged what Miami was able to accomplish during the offseason, an unfiltered Kevin Garnett would have none of it:
...Garnett snapped a bit when a reporter repeatedly inquired about the Heat and their "retooling" in the days leading up to Tuesday's opener.
"Who cares?" said Garnett. "We did some retooling ourselves."
Peter May echoes Garnett's despondency, then points out that the 2007-08 Celtics were almost precisely where the Heat is right now:
For the Celtics, they'd just as soon the cameras stayed right where they are. They went through this hype to a lesser extent in 2007. Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all showed up in uniform for an ESPN commercial. The three were on the cover of almost every NBA preview issue -- then went out and won 66 games in the 2007-08 regular season and, more importantly, 16 more in the postseason.
All through that remarkable season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was careful to point out that his team had done nothing. When the Pistons were on the agenda, it was always, "They've been where we want to go." The Celtics ended up getting to where they wanted to go and have been trying to get back there ever since.
Now, Rivers has the best team he has had since he arrived in 2004. Hey, he has the best team anyone in Boston has had in 25 years. It is a substantial upgrade over last season. But in the battle of the hype, the Celtics are coming out a distant second (or maybe even third) behind the newly minted, putative 2011 NBA champs from South Beach.
The beautiful thing about sports is that these debates are settled definitively over the course of a season. Boston will either exceed expectations by maximizing their depth, precision and experience, or they'll finally succumb to time. All the hype in the world can't change that.