A whirlwind offseason has left the Boston Celtics with very high hopes for a team that finished with the NBA's second-worst record in 2006-07.
Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce debut as the Celtics' formidable new core Friday when Boston hosts the Washington Wizards.
The Celtics went 24-58 last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight time. Even though that record gave them the second-best chance of getting the first pick in the draft, and the right to select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, they ended up with just the No. 5 pick.
That turn of events, however, set into motion a pair of deals that turned Boston into an immediate contender in the East.
The Celtics sent point guard Delonte West and the No. 5 pick to Seattle for star guard Allen on draft night. That acquisition made Boston more attractive to Minnesota's Garnett, who eventually agreed to be traded from the Timberwolves in a deal for five players, two conditional first-round picks and cash consideration.
The blockbuster moves suddenly had Celtics fans thinking back to the days of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish - a trio that led the team to three championships in the 1980s.
Allen and Garnett join Pierce, who has spent the first nine years of his career with the Celtics. Though Pierce has averaged 23.6 points per game, the Celtics have won just three playoff series with him.
Last season, the Celtics set a franchise record with 18 straight losses and posted their second-worst mark in their 62 seasons. It's no wonder Pierce is enjoying himself more this season.
"I'm having a lot of fun each and every day,'' Pierce said.
Garnett, a 10-time All-Star, has spent all of his 12 seasons with the Timberwolves, averaging 20.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. Allen, a seven-time All-Star, has averaged 21.5 points in 11 seasons with Milwaukee and Seattle.
Still, Pierce knows that adding Allen and Garnett doesn't guarantee the Celtics their first title since 1986.
"We by no means feel like we're kings of the East,'' he said. "We've got to go out there and show it. We've got a target on our back. We've got to be ready every day because everybody's looking at the commercials, the magazine covers seeing all that stuff.''
The Celtics will need contributions from the rest of their roster if they hope to contend for the conference championship. Rajon Rondo, 21 and in just his second season, will take over as the starting point guard after averaging 6.4 points, 3.8 assists and 23.5 minutes last season.
Boston will also rely on veteran newcomers Eddie House, James Posey and Scot Pollard off the bench.
"It takes time,'' coach Doc Rivers said. "It looks like it's close, but we haven't been tested. We haven't gone through anything yet. So I understand it's going to take a while. Hopefully, each day we're better.''
The first test of the superstar trio will come against Washington, winner of four straight against Boston, including three last season.
The Wizards lost 119-110 in overtime to Indiana on Wednesday in their season opener. Gilbert Arenas hit a 3-pointer to force the extra period and paced Washington with 34 points.
"I never doubt myself,'' he said. "I did it again, but it wasn't enough to bring us to victory.''
The game was the first in the regular season since April 4 for Arenas, who missed the final eight games and the playoffs last season with a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee. Arenas ranked third in the NBA last season with 28.4 points per game.
Antawn Jamison had 27 points and 16 rebounds and Caron Butler, who missed the final 10 regular season games and the playoffs last season with a broken right hand, had 19 points and 11 boards for the Wizards.
"Everyone came out and played hard,'' Arenas said of the defeat. "It's not the end of the world. They're a good ballclub.''
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