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Steve Aschburner

Allen, Pierce and Garnett: Remember when these guys were a team?
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

New Celts, sans Allen, try once again to recapture old magic

Posted Jul 12 2012 12:19PM

Got into a Twitter war the other night after the news hit that Ray Allen would be signing with the Miami Heat. The other combatant was Ray Ratto, columnist for CSNBayArea (@RattoCSN), longtime San Francisco sports scribe and nearly-as-longtime crony.

Ratto was atta-boying Allen's move to Miami, happy for the veteran NBA shooting guard's enhanced shot at a second championship. My salvos from Chicago centered on a breach of loyalty in the classic sense of one man (Allen) to one cause (another Celtics' title run). I know, how naïve!

Anyway, the hour was late, Ratto was starting to Tweet about beer (and hitting me in the head with the stein) and we essentially agreed to sneer and curl our lips at each other the next time we actually were in the same arena.

Besides, none of it matters a whit now. Allen is gone from Boston and the biggest question hanging over the Celtics is this: Can they really make serious runs at an NBA title not just next spring but in June 2014, too?

That is the prize, the one the Celtics took their eyes off during the regular season, which led to the trade talks, which led to all the animosity, which led to this. It was the goal when the "Big Three" of Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett came together in the summer of 2007 -- wow, five years and already whiffs of nostalgia -- and it was a goal revived by Boston's run up to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals a month ago.

It didn't matter that Allen was limping, in need of ankle surgery and not himself (28 of 92 from the arc, 30.4 percent). Danny Ainge, the club's chief basketball executive, head coach Doc Rivers and Celtics ownership felt buoyed enough by what they saw, and what they saw around them, to re-commit. Only now, with their silky veteran shooting guard gone, it might feel like staging a Monkees reunion with Justin Bieber manning vocals and tambourine in place of Davy Jones.

Maybe the Celtics were encouraged by the heavy action of oldsters signing in the opening bursts of free agency, with Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and others trying to convince Father Time that, even in the NBA, 40 is the new 30. Maybe they're in some sort of denial. Maybe Ainge got caught in the switches when he couldn't move Allen or others by the March trade deadline and had this option foisted on him.

"It's never one or the other," Ainge had told the Boston Globe before Allen's decision. "We're trying to put together a good team this upcoming year."

They're trying to prop open a window of title opportunities well into the December of this team's years is what they're trying to do. The Allen, Pierce and Garnett partnership was supposed to be good for three seasons. They're aiming for six or seven, retooling on the fly.

One of the knee-jerk reactions to Allen's departure was that at least the team's key parts will be younger. Avery Bradley, whose development bumped Allen to the bench this spring, won't turn 22 until Thanksgiving and forward Jeff Green, a non-factor last season while under repair for an aortic aneurism, will be 26 in August and is back to prove the Kendrick Perkins trade was worth it.

Yet with the signing of Jason Terry, Boston still will be relying heavily on three guys born in the '70s. There's a good chance, too, that Allen's finely tuned 37-year-old body next season will purr more smoothly and durably than Terry's 35-year-old chassis. Then there's Bradley, who just had his second shoulder surgery in six weeks; his debut date for 2012-13 remains completely unknown.

Pierce and Garnett, at 35 and 36 this season, might be among the least of Rivers' worries. The former can dominate with his court-bound game now same as a decade ago. The latter was reborn at center after the All-Star break and went vintage repeatedly in the postseason (nine double-doubles in 20 games, compared to 21 in 60 in the regular season).

But uncertainty abounds after that, from Green's comeback and Terry's new-team, old-role play to Bradley's return date and the NBA futures of rookie Jared Sullinger and youngsters E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson. How well Ainge is able to plug holes (Courtney Lee?), from Allen's lost marksmanship in the left corner and on the right wing to whatever happens with Greg Stiemsma and Mickael Pietrus, will dictate a lot.

So, too, will Rivers' ability to bring it all together in a locker room that has been left a little bruised by recent events. Rajon Rondo got cast as a villain in some reports of Allen's unhappiness last season in Boston. Garnett and Pierce cannot be happy about going or remaining all-in even as Allen is all-gone.

We all remember "ubuntu," the African philosophy that the 2007-08 Celtics embraced to fast-track their sudden construction into the chemistry of a champion. It's all about allegiances and relations to each other. Now the reliance on the "you's" seems to have been stripped away some, replaced by "me's" and "I's."

Wonder if Rivers and the Celtics can get the same mileage out of "ibinti."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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

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