All Celtics see the light on ‘window’
Whenever talk of their “window’’ for winning championships came up, it was always closing on Celtics Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce. They were the aging veterans assembled to win as many titles as possible with their expiration dates supposedly nearing. That seemingly didn’t apply to the handful of players in the Boston locker room who still seemed to have their entire NBA lives ahead of them.
But at one point in the middle of this season, Allen talked to those young players, including a one-on-one with Rajon Rondo, to give them a dose of reality. Allen told them that he was young once, whether they believed it or not, and he went deep into the playoffs with a team that wasn’t the Celtics, taking the Bucks to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001. He made the playoffs just once more before coming to Boston.
“I told them, one year, when I was your age, I made it to the Eastern Conference finals and then I didn’t sniff it again,’’ Allen said. “So it’s never guaranteed to be in a situation where everybody’s on the same page. People talk about it, but you’re lucky to line up with a bunch of guys that have the same goals as you do — and an organization as well.’’
Some players wait their entire careers to reach the summit. Adrian Dantley was 31 when he played in his first NBA Finals, as a Piston, falling to the Lakers in 1988. Tiny Archibald was 10 seasons into his Hall of Fame career before he reached the Finals in 1981 with the Celtics, winning his only ring.
Karl Malone was 33 and John Stockton 34 before they reached the Finals, and when they got there, their Jazz lost two years straight to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
They ended their careers ringless. Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing never won titles.
Other players get an early taste of success, then never see it again. Allen Iverson was 25 when he willed the 76ers to the Finals in 2001, falling to the Lakers, and he never got back.
Rondo is 24 years old. So is Glen Davis. Kendrick Perkins is 25. They all have rings already, and when the Finals start Thursday night in Los Angeles against the Lakers, they will be playing for a second.
“It’s hard to do,’’ Perkins said. “That’s why I feel like you’ve kind of got to embrace the moment. Very seldom do you get these opportunities to actually win a championship, where you’re on a team this talented and this dedicated.
“The biggest thing is winning early for a young guy. When a young guy wins early you never know how he might bounce back coming back the next years. But I think for myself, us winning the first title, I got hungry for another one. But it’s different mind-sets for different people.’’
Success is as fleeting as it is fragile in the NBA, something coach Doc Rivers said crystallized for everyone a year ago when Garnett’s season-ending knee injury sabotaged their championship hopes.
“I think they have a better perspective because they were on a championship team and then last year they saw how it fell apart,’’ Rivers said. “I think they just know that every year is the only year. I think veterans will always understand that more than the young players. The young players always think, ‘Oh, we have next year.’ The young players used to think that, then they got burned four, five times, and they realize each year’s the only year. And that’s the only way you can take it.’’
The youngsters can look around their locker room for lessons in patience. Along with Allen, Garnett and Pierce both nearly reached breaking points after spending the primes of their careers trying in vain to lead franchises to titles.
“When you’re older and you haven’t acquired anything, there’s a sense of chasing,’’ said Garnett, whose deepest playoff run before arriving in Boston came in 2004, when he led the Timberwolves to the Western Conference finals. “When you win young, it’s like a lesson for the future. You know what it takes. You know what you’re going to have to do. You learn as a young person. When you’re older and you haven’t acquired a lot of things and you’re chasing, to me, you get more of an appreciation each time you’re denied.’’
Garnett has called the down period in Minnesota “dark years.’’ It’s something some of the younger Celtics are familiar with, having endured a 24-58 season before a series of moves gave the franchise new life before the start of the 2007-08 season.
“I just don’t want to go back to that,’’ Perkins said. “I don’t want to go back to the low side of it. You kind of get spoiled when you start winning and moving throughout the playoffs.’’
In Rondo’s case, winning a championship so young set his priorities.
“I just want to take advantage of the opportunity that we have,’’ he said. “I think we have a special group of guys, on the court and off the court, so I definitely want to take advantage of it, and try to get a championship this year.’’
He was proud to make his first All-Star team in February, but when he got to Dallas he said it was nothing like the Finals. Other point guards such as Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams, are lauded as the best in the game. But his response is always that he’s the only young point guard with a championship ring.
It’s an attitude that makes a veteran like Garnett grin.
“That’s what you play for,’’ Garnett said. “The added stuff is what it is. It’s cool when it happens, when you make an All-Star team. But you play the game for those banners. You play the game for the rings.’’
And the chance to compete every year isn’t promised.
“You could either say they’re spoiled or it’ll be the death of them being on a team that had great success early in their career,’’ Allen said of the young players.