THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

They’re all in a pretty competitive state

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / January 3, 2010

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Uh-oh. Eighteen months without a parade. You starting to get the shakes?

The greatest decade in Boston professional sports history is over. We had six championships spread among three franchises and one bid for history thwarted in the final minute of a game. We were alternately envied and hated by the rest of America. We featured heroes, folk heroes, and even an anti-hero football coach who began the decade hailed as a genius and ended it cursed as a serial envelope-pusher.

I kept telling you these were the good old days, and I hope you embraced what I said, because it stands to reason the next decade can’t be better than this one. Unless you’re a Bruins fan, of course.

As always, we discuss the State of the Teams in alphabetical order.

Bruins
How do you figure these guys? Just when you start to think they’re pretty good, they let you down. And just when you’re ready to give up on them, they win a few games in succession and look as if they can defeat anyone in the league.

The big issue, as it has been for most of the last two decades - or, since Cam Neely’s premature retirement - is goal scoring. Simply put, there isn’t enough of it. Even more simply put, the guys who are being paid pretty good money need to score more. When they manage to score the occasional 5, 6, or even 7 goals in a game, you ask yourself, ‘Where did that come from?’’ because there are too many nights when many good scoring opportunities are not finalized.

They pretty much told the world they could live without finesse guy Phil Kessel and his 36 goals, but the jury is out on that one, and that’s being polite.

The way it looks now, the Bruins are a pesky team that could be a proverbial tough out in the playoffs, but there’s no need to start preparing the boss for that day off in order to watch the parade.

But I’m not giving up, because it seems to me they’re in good hands with Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien. Does that sound contradictory? I hope not.

Celtics
Four of their top six players are 32 or older. So, yes, there’s a sense of urgency if anyone wants to see banner No. 18 hoisted to the rafters next fall.

Look, the experiment is already a success. The chips were cashed in at the end of Year One, and it couldn’t be any more fun than seeing the Lakers crushed by 39 in the clinching game. It’s been gravy ever since.

But it’s not necessarily over yet. We do not know how good the 2009-10 Celtics will be, not until they have assembled the full cast of characters, which means Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo, Perkins, Wallace, House, Davis, Daniels, Allen, and, perhaps, Williams playing together in reasonable health.

If they do pull it off this year, it will be because of solid team defense and, when the time comes, more virtuoso offense from Paul Pierce, the one Celtic who can always get a shot, who knows how to get to the line, and who thrives on the big moments. Kevin Garnett will never change: He will always regard himself as a facilitator, not a Go-To Guy. It’s time we all reconciled ourselves to that reality.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa on the subject of Kendrick Perkins, whom I once denounced as a career backup. He is a defensive force and an astonishingly improved offensive player. As for Rajon Rondo, there just cannot be a 2010 All-Star Game without him. He’s both good and fun to watch. Stylistically, he is unique.

Do be happy Doc Rivers is the coach. He understands the delicacy of this roster. He’ll lose as many battles as are necessary in order to have a chance of winning the war.

Patriots
They are 107-36 in the past nine regular seasons as they prepare for today’s game in Houston. If you take that for granted, triple shame on you.

And they’re not dead yet.

Vulnerable? Without doubt. They’re hardly reliable on the road (stop with the Buffalo, and London doesn’t count). A bunch of angry housewives brandishing rolling pins could exert more consistent pressure on the passer. The search continues for a third receiving threat. They have had great difficulty scoring points in the second half of many games. The secondary has too many ugly moments. They could use a punter. Do you really believe in the running game?

But they’ll be playing at home next weekend when the tournament starts, and that’s an undeniable fact. They still have Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the impossible-to-overpraise Wes Welker. If his foot is feeling OK, they have a first-class nose tackle in Vince Wilfork. Most of all, they still have Coach Bill, the indefatigable master of preparation and long-haul planning. One way or the other, he and his staff got ’em here.

Here’s the deal: They will probably win that home game, and that means from then on they will be playing with house money, and they could be very dangerous, especially if they get the Colts. (A little matter of some unfinished business.)

Embrace them. They are the Old Celtics in shoulder pads.

Red Sox
Step back for a moment and take a deep breath. It took the Yankees five years and more than half a billion dollars, but they finally one-upped the Boston Red Sox. What does that say about the local lads?

It says we have been, and remain in, the greatest stretch of Red Sox baseball since the championship run of 1912-15-16-18, when the dynamics of American professional sport were a little different. The Red Sox have had the mighty Yankees chasing them.

OK, OK, they need a bat. You like Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victor Martinez, and Youk 1 through 4 in the lineup, but you don’t know what to expect from Big Papi and you’re not enthralled with the remainder of the order. If no additional bat materializes, will J.D. Drew stay healthy enough to give Tito 25 and 90? (Probably not.) Is Mike Cameron going to get enough ABs against lefties to hit 15, let alone 20 or 25 ? (Probably not.) This is a problem.

So right now it’s about a potentially killer rotation: Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Dice-K, Buchholz, Wakefield, etc. They’re working on set-ups for Papelbon - one can never have too many Ramon Ramirezes on hand - but let’s be honest: The Papster is a bit scary. He walked way too many last year and he lost confidence in anything other than his heater. You might recall what it looked like last time we saw him. So he has something to prove.

Until further notice, they’re prepared to live with a pitching-defense-and-just-enough-offense formula. I see another wild card. But hasn’t Theo proven to be resourceful and daring? Let’s talk on the morning of Aug. 1.

Revolution
Two years removed from that fourth appearance in the MLS Cup, the Revs are in a scrambling mode. They were exceedingly average this past season, making it into the playoffs with an 11-10-9 record before losing to the Chicago Fire on aggregate, 3-2.

It certainly hasn’t helped that Taylor Twellman has yet to recover from the frightful collision he had in August 2008 with Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin that left him with, as he put it, “a serious head injury that goes to my cervical spine.’’ He was only able to play two games in ’09, which means the Revs were deprived of the greatest scoring threat in their history. He is talking optimistically about being ready for training camp.

The immediate future is cloudy, as well, for both veteran forward Steve Ralston (torn ACL) and the versatile Jeff Larentowicz, who has a murky contractual status. Oh, and let’s not forget impending collective bargaining woes for everyone in MLS. They’ll also miss retiring defender Jay Heaps, a consummate glue guy.

The Revs do have an endlessly resourceful coach in Steve Nicol, but he will be handicapped this coming season by the loss of valued assistant Paul Mariner, who is now the Big Cheese with his old side, Plymouth Argyle.

Coulda/shoulda/woulda: The missed opportunities in the MLS Cup get more and more painful to contemplate.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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