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Can't grouse about the championship-driven Celtics

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  September 28, 2010 02:16 PM

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Shaquille O'Neal was a main attraction at media day.
When the Celtics rolled out the basketballs today in Newport, R.I., letting the green flag drop on the 2010-11 season, it started a journey that can best be described as Banner No. 18 or bust.

We all used to laugh when M.L. Carr, a man most well-known for waving a white towel, talked about how the Celtics were championship-driven. Well, now they really are. In fact, they're the most championship-ready -- and compelling -- outfit in town.

While the Red Sox are enjoying a bridge year with little pizzazz, the Patriots are a team in transition girding for a likely lockout and the Bruins have what they hope ends up as a Stanley Cup contender with a potential franchise player in Tyler Seguin, the Celtics have all the pieces in place for another championship. Ready-made and ready to go.

There are no bridges, transitions, projections or qualifiers. Celtics Now isn't just a television program it's a description of the team's ethos.

For that we have Celtics ownership to thank. They ponied up to bring back coach Doc Rivers, keep the Big Three intact with new contracts for Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and exceeded the luxury tax to add whatever is left of veteran big men Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal to a team that was six minutes away from its second NBA title in three seasons before it skipped away like so many of those rebounds in Staples Center.

"We lost in a seven-game series. We led by 13 points in that game, and we lost it fair and square," said Celtics owner and chief executive officer Wyc Grousbeck. "We lost it, but I'm not putting up with that any more if I can help it."

Yesterday, as he stood near mid-court of the Celtics' practice facility in Waltham, observing media day, Grousbeck recalled it was the eight-year anniversary of when he, his father, H. Irving, and Steve Pagliuca agreed to purchase the Celtics for a then-record $360 million.

Grousbeck and his group weren't afraid to spend big and dream big then, and they're not now either. They've gone seven million over the $71-million luxury tax threshold to put a winner on the parquet. They've done that in the face of similar collective bargaining uncertainty to what we've heard so much about down in Foxborough. Like the NFL, the NBA is facing a potential labor Armageddon in 2011.

"I would say since the day we got Kevin Garnett we've been all-in, pedal to the medal, and this [team] is another example of that," said Grousbeck.

The Celtics have a team of Shamrock Stars with KG, Pierce, Allen, Shaq and Rajon Rondo. They have reliable role players in Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and prodigal backup point guard Delonte West. They have a team they believe can compete with the Young Money crew of Miami -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh -- whom they open the season against on Oct. 26 at TD Garden.

Of course it was also a team that at times looked old and uninspired on its way to a 50-32 regular-season and a No. 4 seed in the playoffs, but no one is supposed to remember that. They also shouldn't recall Jermaine O'Neal's awful 9-for-44 performance against the Celtics in the playoffs last spring or Rondo getting to the rim at will against Shaq and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That's ancient history around HealthPoint.

It was all sunshine and smiles yesterday for the Green Team, even from the grouchy Garnett, whom general manager Danny Ainge said is in a much better place health-wise than he was the start of last season. Shaq lumbered around like everyone's best friend, even stopping to kiss Rondo on the cheek.

Center Kendrick Perkins, recovering from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, was in good spirits and walking around without a limp, two-plus months removed from surgery.

Everybody was looking at the world through Kelly green-colored glasses.

It would have been a much different story if coach Doc Rivers, who juggles egos like a circus performer does knives, hadn't decided to return to his basketball family. It seemed like Rivers was done coaching the Celtics when he gave an emotional postgame press conference at Staples Center on the night of June 17.

Media members actually clapped as he walked off the podium. But Rivers decided to come back on June 30 and seven days later both Pierce and Allen had agreed to return as well.

"I think having Doc come back is important," said Grousbeck. "He's the catalyst, he's the coach, he's done a great job. I think having Rajon in place meant a lot. I think having Rajon and KG in place is important, and then Paul and Ray both signed up. It was all in one busy week. Once the dominoes started falling and everybody started coming back we realized we were going to be a really good team."

The question is for how long?

The popular theory is the Celtics have a two-year window to win another title with Garnett, Allen, and the O'Neals signed for that time period. The only players signed beyond 2012 are Pierce, who has a four-year, $61 million extension, and Rondo, who is in the first season of the five-year, $55-million extension he inked last season.

But with Rivers's tenuous coaching situation, the Celtics are really going for broke this season because there is no guarantee Rivers agrees to come back a second time, especially after the insouciance and recalcitrance of this bunch nearly ran him off last season.

"I think Doc has made the point that he re-evaluates every single year," said Grousbeck.

To borrow a phrase from former Celtics coach Rick Pitino, it's all about the precious present with these Celtics.

Everyone from ownership on down is selling out for another title, and as Paul Pierce said via Twitter, this promises to be one wild ride.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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