A triple-threat of games against rival title contenders in the same week, how many of those games would you expect the Boston Celtics to win? None was the answer, as the Celtics dropped three straight to the Lakers, Magic and Hawks and came away with nothing but hurt pride.
Shaun Powell summed it up in his NBA.com column, asking whether Boston’s “Big Three” were done. I would have to agree. Boston’s blockbuster trades in 2007 transformed the fortunes of the franchise, acquiring Ray Allen from Seattle for Delonte West, Wally Sczerbiak and Jeff Green, and then an 8 player trade that brought Kevin Garnett from Minesotta. The Big Three, supported by young point guard Rajon Rondo, fulfilled expectations and won an NBA championship in 2008. Powell says:
“It was an intoxicating blend of Russell-like intimidation (KG), buttery outside shooting (Allen) and old-fashioned Celtic pride (Pierce) that carried the Celtics in 2008 and threatened to keep a choke hold on the East, if not the league, until LeBron James and/or Kobe Bryant got help.
But is that it for the Celtics? Is the KG-Pierce-Allen combination done after one championship? The problem is that injuries and age have taken their toll on the Celtics. Garnett is an old 34, Pierce is 32 and Ray is 33. Whilst they still have three players on the All-Star team this year (Pierce, KG and Rondo), you could argue only Rondo deserved the honour, with KG and Pierce only chosen because of their reputations and the weakness in the East’s roster. The Celtics are banged up, KG’s knees are a permanent issue, having missed all of the second half of the season last year and then three weeks of this season with a hyperextended right knee; Ray Allen’s game is declining and Paul Pierce, while still producing, cannot carry the team by himself.
To show how far the “Big Three” have regressed, here are their scoring averages this season, compared to when they won it all in 2007/08:
Kevin Garnett 18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.4 apg 14.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.6 apg
Paul Pierce 19.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.5 apg 18.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.4 apg
Ray Allen 17.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.1 apg 15.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg
This shows that KG, Ray and Pierce have all declined. KG in particular is averaging near career-lows this season. The acquisition of Rasheed Wallace has been a disaster, with Sheed more interested in committing technical fouls and jacking up bad threes than contributing to the team’s offence. The Celtics have been carried by the form of Rondo this season: who, despite not being able to hit a jump shot, is a constant triple-double threat and is averaging 14 points and 9 assists this season.
Don’t get me wrong: if the Celtics are healthy, they can beat any team in the League. I just don’t think they will be. And with Ray Allen’s contract expiring in the summer, the Celtics won’t pay anything near the $20 million he is earning this season. Yahoo! sports have reported that the Celtics could trade Allen to the Sacramento Kings for Kevin Martin and an expiring contract (reported to be Andres Nocioni), which even though K-Mart is not as good a shooter as Ray, would make the Celtics younger and help that rebuilding process when they lose KG and Pierce, and have to build around Rondo in the future.
There’s one reason why so much attention has been drawn towards the Kings in the last few weeks: the play of rookie Tyreke Evans. The 6’6” guard from Memphis has been killing it in the NBA, averaging 20.4 ppg, 5.1 rebounds and 5 assists. If ‘Reke continues with this form, he will be only the 4th rookie to average 20, 5 and 5 – the others: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Lebron James. Not bad company then…
Evans’ size and build is the main reason why he has been so successful so far in the NBA. At 6’6” Tyreke can power his way past opposition point guards and get to the rim easily, as shown by ‘Reke dropping 28 points on Cleveland and 24 on the Bucks in the last week, as well as a season-high 32 points on Deron Williams and the Jazz in November. Evans was instrumental in helping the Kings overcome a 35-point deficit in the second half against the Bulls last week.
What makes the Kings’ form even more impressive is that they are missing their leading scorer Kevin Martin and starter Francisco Garcia through injury and are still near .500 in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. And with a young core of rookie Evans, second year forward Jason Thompson and young center Stephen Hawes, the Kings have a few nice pieces to build on for the future. If K-Mart can fit into the new system when he returns from injury and continue to put up points, then the Kings are only a couple of players away from competing in the West once again.
How could can the Kings be this season? With a young core of rookie Evans, second year forward Jason Thompson, center Spencer Hawes and promising rookie Omri Casspi, the Kings have a few nice pieces to build on for the future. When Kevin Martin returns from injury they will improve, although K-Mart will have to get used to being the second option with Tyreke running the show. If he can’t, then the Kings might be able to get a few valuable pieces or an All-Star in return. Ultimately though, I don’t think the Kings will be making the playoffs this season. They still lack quality compared to fellow rebuilding teams like the Thunder, with their young core of Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. And I think teams like the Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Mavs, Suns, Blazers, Jazz and maybe the Rockets will clinch the playoff spots in the West. But I think Tyreke will continue to shine for the Kings this year, and with Blake Griffin still injured for the forseeable future, I can see Evans winning the Rookie of the Year.