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Shaun Powell

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The Celtics' Big Three is likely staring down the end of their championship run.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Was Celtics' choice to win quickly worth long-term payoff?


Posted Mar 12 2010 10:29AM

We paid $7.2 million for a hunk of ice called Alaska, considered a waste of money at the time. But it turned out OK. Ray Kroc gave nearly $3 million to two guys for a small burger franchise, but now, after more than 99 billion sold, McDonald's turned out to be a bargain.

A few years ago, the Celtics revamped their team for a championship run by assembling three pricey players. Now that it appears their "run" will amount to a single title, was their $175 million-plus investment worth it?

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Meaning: How much would you (and should you) pay for a championship? No question, the 2008 title restored faith in the franchise, raised a 17th title banner in Boston, sold plenty of season tickets, rekindled memories of Red Auerbach's cigar and the Larry Bird era and added another chapter to the Celtics' rich history. The Celtics "brand" received a boost, and that's something you really can't put a price on.

Still, the Celtics paid dearly for that small taste of the good life. The championship did not spawn a lengthy stretch of prosperity. They're aging faster than a father with teenaged daughters. Kevin Garnett is down to his last healthy leg. Ray Allen is headed for summer free agency and will likely sign elsewhere. Paul Pierce has lots of zeros on his odometer.

The Celtics lost a great chance to repeat when KG came up lame before the start of the 2009 playoffs. And now, with injury and age sapping the Celtics here in the home stretch of Year Three, the chance of grabbing another title looks dimmer with every loss to the Nets.

Everyone suspected the shelf life of the KG-Pierce-Allen era would be a short one, given their ages, when the Celtics traded youth for immediate help in the summer of 2007. Here's how it went down:

They resisted the urge to trade Pierce to the Blazers and therefore kept the $75 million balance of his contract, which goes through next season.

They traded for Ray Allen and assumed the $45 million left on his contract.

They traded budding big man Al Jefferson to Minnesota for Garnett and also tacked on a $60 million extension to his existing deal, which was the richest in the NBA. The extension doesn't end until after the 2011-12 season when KG will make $21 million in his 16th season.

This wasn't exactly the New York Yankees buying the World Series, but the Celtics definitely spent their way to prosperity and the right to sip champagne in 2008. Because they're over the cap next season, an earnest rebuilding effort can't occur for two more seasons at the earliest.

Two other teams paid for single championships last decade. The Pistons won in 2004 by assuming Rasheed Wallace's contract in a trade deadline-day deal with the Hawks, but the team payroll was a middle-of-the-pack $51 million. The cost of the title came afterward, when they rewarded Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince (but did allow the Bulls to sign Ben Wallace to an obscene four-year, $60 million deal).

Miami won in 2006 after landing Shaquille O'Neal in a 2004 offseason deal with the Lakers. The Heat swallowed Shaq's mammoth $20 million deal, but Dwyane Wade was still on his rookie deal and Miami's payroll was in Detroit's ballpark. Then the Heat dumped Shaq two years after winning the title in a deadline-day deal with Phoenix.

It's not that the Celtics would do it differently. Don't forget, this franchise was heading down fast. Boston won the Atlantic Division in 2004-05, but followed it up with a 33-49 season in 2005-06 and went 24-58 the next season. General manager Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers were under siege and the core of the club was Jefferson, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes and Pierce. When Boston didn't get the No. 1 overall pick (Greg Oden) or No. 2 (Kevin Durant) in the 2007 Draft, they had to go another route.

At least the Celtics could look at it this way: The Knicks' payroll stayed in the $90-100 million range for years and they never won anything.

Line Score of the Week

Andrew Bogut, Bucks: 42 minutes, 10-for-18 shooting, 17 rebounds, four blocks, 25 points against the Celtics.

One other stat rung up by the big Australian in that victory: A facial that would make Joan Rivers' plastic surgeon jealous, served up on Big Baby's baby-faced mug.

The Bucks are making a playoff move up the charts that's surprising in some aspects, and less shocking in others. On one hand, they're doing it without a certified All-Star. On the other, this is the Eastern Conference, loaded with cheese puffs, making it a bit easier for the Bucks to surge.

But please, take nothing away from Bogut. He's been a discovery in this, his breakout season. He actually believes he can play well against any big man on the floor, Kevin Garnett included (although that's not so hard these days, with KG doing a pogo-stick on one leg).

Interesting tid-bit: The Bucks gave Bogut a five-year, $72 million extension two summers ago and it was considered a risky deal at the time. They'd just handed Michael Redd a max contract three years earlier for $91 million and gave the since-traded Mo Williams $51 million the previous year. With Bogut mired in inconsistent play, Williams failing to live up to the contract initially and Redd suffering the first of two knee injuries, the Bucks were stuck in a financial hole.

Now, of those three players, only Bogut seems to be worth the money.

Line Score of the Weak

Rafer Alston, Heat: 0 minutes, 0 assists, 0 points and 0 sightings all week.

This has to rank right up with the stranger events this season. Skip To My Lou simply skipped town, or at least went somewhere that the Heat couldn't find him. Without an explanation or warning, Alston abandoned the team, presumably in a snit over playing time and his role, then later cited through the media (not the Heat) that a pressing family issue was the reason.

Regardless of the truth, Alston's AWOL is actually a reflection of the Heat's point guard position: missing. Miami never really settled on a specific player, ripping through Mario Chalmers, Carlos Arroyo and Alston in order to find stability or consistent production. Essentially, none panned out, leaving Miami without anyone to help now or in the future. Along with the Lakers and Hawks, who are starting geezers (Derek Fisher and Mike Bibby), the Heat are getting less from the point guard spot than any team.

The big picture impact? Well, when free agency hits this summer, there won't be a great point guard on the market. So, no matter how well the Heat reload with Wade and someone else, the point guard dilemma will continue. And we'll just safely assume that Alston won't be around.

Dis an Dat

• Which potential first-round matchup is more interesting: LeBron vs. Wade, or Lakers vs. Spurs?

Figure that Wade would go for broke in that series, if only to elevate himself to the level of LeBron and also to send a message to all potential suitors this summer that he's still a free-agent prize. As if he needs to remind anyone. Anyway, a classic duel could emerge from that matchup, although Wade's team probably won't stick around long.

As for Lakers-Spurs: If the Lakers continue to stumble along here in the dog days, and Tony Parker heals faster than expected, we could have one of the better No. 1 vs. No. 8 first-round matchups in history. Remember, Tim Duncan usually doesn't wake up until spring.

• This will be forever known as The Lost Years by Knick fans, a stretch where little will be remembered and nothing will be savored. In no particular order, they've had to deal with Eddy Curry, Isiah Thomas, Steve Francis, Stephon Marbury, Larry Brown, Jerome James, an ugly Latrell Sprewell return to the Garden, Lenny Wilkens, Nate Robinson shooting at the wrong basket, Anucha Brown Sanders, Mike Sweetney and Chris Duhon.

• Of course, the Warriors, who've had one playoff appearance since 1995, counter with Patrick O'Bryant, Eric Musselman, Dave Cowens, Mike Montgomery, Cap'n Jack, Adonal Foyle, Mike Dunleavy, Don Nelson Part II, Ike Diogu and Monta Ellis going for a spin on his new toy.

Game, set, match, Warriors.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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