Ten Thousand Strong at Least

The Magic are loaded and the Lakers loaded-er, but let’s all take a moment to be wary of the force that’s mounting in the Northeast.  The Boston Celtics are building an army.  It is an army bred for a single purpose: to destroy the world of Men.

Betting against the Celtics is a tricky proposition, especially since discounting the Celtics likely requires detailed medical information that flies far above our amateur Doogie Howser heads.  Garnett still needs to prove that his he can run without his knee clicking like a metronome, but I’m willing to grant one of the league’s iron men the benefit of the doubt.  KG did miss the playoffs due to injury, but isn’t expecting further injury or even limitation a bit presumptuous?  This isn’t Yao Ming, this is Kevin Garnett.  Or as he’d probably be the first to tell you, Kevin M.F. Garnett.  He’s got some miles on him, sure, but he also managed six straight seasons of 81+ regular season games.  At this very moment, he’s probably making this face while leg pressing school buses.  Full of children.  And rhinos.  The same player that was accused of being too passionate is now flagged as an injury problem waiting to happen, and I’m just not sure that adds up.  While I’m well aware that Garnett’s heart doesn’t vouch for the rest of his body’s welfare, I believe very much in the mental and emotional sides of injury recovery.  That, and if last season taught us anything, it’s that this man cannot and will not sit on the bench in a suit.  KG just Hulks out whenever he comes within a hundred feet of a bouncing ball, and no innocent bystanders would be safe with him ticking like a time bomb on the pine.

I’m not ignoring the possibility that Garnett could and may miss some time.  I just don’t think it’s fair to him or this team to assume it’s destined to happen.

Of course, the Celtics have added enough to still pose a real threat without KG.  The Magic and the Cavs have made some tremendous moves this off-season, but the Boston army still looms.  The C’s are absolutely stacked inside, and they’ve complemented Kendrick Perkins (who may be the best solo defender of Dwight Howard in the game) nicely by adding Rasheed Wallace, re-signing Glen Davis, and digging Shelden Williams out from under the porch.  That’s a set of bigs to be proud of, even if the rest of the world eyes your team with bitter jealousy; Wallace and Davis can both space the floor on offense, while Perk and Williams are more prototypical defenders and rebounders inside.  That’s depth without Kevin Garnett, and adding one of the best power forwards in the game back into that mix only makes it that much more potent.  It’s nightmare fuel for every Eastern Conference coach nursing rebounding advantage dreams.

What impressed me most about the Celtics in last year’s playoffs was just how good they were without Garnett.  On offense, I expected Pierce to be swarmed, Rondo to look a little uncomfortable, and the works to gum up.  Instead, Glen Davis slid comfortably into KG’s slot in the rotation, and a combination of role players found ways to pick up the slack.  On defense, I expected one of the league’s most consistent and stellar systems to sputter without its vocal and emotional leader.  Instead, Garnett morphed from leader to symbol.  The outfit functioned without him but within his spirit, and the defensive ethic that won the day in 2008 was every bit as present in 2009.  Personnel was limited (James Posey also went bye-bye) in comparison and the competition improved, hence a different result.  But the experience from last year’s run both tangibly and intangibly changed this team for the better, and elevated KG’s influence from mentor and leader by example to force more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

Look, I’m not happy about this either.  I have a hard time getting behind Garnett’s antics, Pierce’s hubris, or Rondo post-Hinrich.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t respect the hell out of ‘em.  They’re veteran-laden, and the confidence, experience, and skill that oozes from the very pores of this roster make the Celtics as good as any team in the East.  They needed some offensive versatility and backcourt depth, and got that in Marquis Daniels.  They needed to bring back their frontcourt at the very least, and they’ve done that and then some.  What more would you ask of a team already within the realm of contention?

Seth Carstens