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What if the Celtics had Kevin Durant?

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  June 15, 2012 01:10 PM

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Life is full of what-ifs, and sports is no different.

It's hard to watch Kevin Durant in the NBA Finals and not wonder what if? What if instead of burying jumpers and opponents' hopes and unfurling his arms for finger rolls like a human measuring tape in Oklahoma City, Durant had taken his talents to Causeway Street?

It's the ultimate hoops hypothetical, one that is interesting to contemplate with Durant's Thunder facing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and the Celtics at an organizational crossroads. Would Boston have been better off with a decade-plus of Durant's singular talent or five (and counting) glorious, memorable, enjoyable years with the Big Three, whose basketball biological clocks have been ticking from the moment they were assembled.

Imagine wiping away the last five years of Boston basketball, all of it -- no Big Three, no Banner No. 17, no Ubuntu, no Kevin Garnett pounding his chest and the boards, no Ray Allen raining 3-pointers, no resurgent runs to the 2010 NBA Finals and 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

In exchange for forfeiting all of that you get the joy of watching Durant, already a three-time NBA scoring champion at the tender age of 23, author unadulterated greatness and evoke the zeal and zeitgeist of the Bird Era.

Durant and the Big Three are inexorably linked. It was losing out on the possibility of picking Durant (or Greg Oden) that gave rise to the Big Three in the summer of 2007.

The Celtics were an ignominious outfit during the 2006-2007 season, dropping a franchise-record 18 straight games. Pierce was unhappy and hurt, withering on the vine with the Celtics mired in a combination of immaturity and futility.

These Celtics were green in every sense of the word. If you've blocked out these dark days I have four words for you: Sebastian Telfair, point guard.

The one saving grace for the Celtics was that they finished with the second-worst record in the league and the second-best chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick.

Five years later, the choice is a no-brainer, and it's easy to lampoon Portland for picking Oden No. 1. But back then it was hotly-debated. (Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has always been a bit nebulous on whether he would have selected Durant or Oden. I have it on good authority that it would have been Durant.)

No one knew that Oden was the Benjamin Button of NBA centers and a direct descendant of Sam Bowie. Durant was a frail, lithe, scoring machine from the University of Texas who couldn't bench 185 pounds.

The disappointment was palpable in the city the night of May 22, 2007 when deliverance became disappointment. The Celtics, who had a 19.9 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick, instead ended up with the fifth pick. Portland, Seattle (now OKC) and Atlanta had the ping-pong balls bounce its way.

Ainge then went to Plan B, as in Big Three, acquiring Allen from Seattle (now OKC) and Garnett from Minnesota.

Some Celtics fans were incensed the team had parted with power forward Al Jefferson, a cross between Moses Malone and Kevin McHale in their minds, to acquire Garnett.

There are likely fans who feel the same way about swapping the Big Three era for a Durant epoch -- that it's hoops heresy.

Admittedly, it's difficult to take a sure-fire championship off the board, but Durant has a chance to win multiple titles.

He is as unguardable a player as there is in the league, a nearly 7-foot shooting guard/small forward who shoots over the top of smaller players with unlimited range and glides past those of equal height with ease. Not even LeBron James can stop him without fouling.

Durant has scored 36 and 32 points in the first two games of the Finals, and shot 57 percent from the field.

"KD is an unbelievable talent," said James. "I think we all know that, we all see that. He can make every shot on the floor."

I respect, admire and applaud the Big Three. They deserve all the parquet panegyrics they received this postseason for their resolve, resilience and unbreakable esprit de corps. But ... a 10-year title window is better than a three-turned-five-year one.

There was a mercenary quality to the Big Three. Pierce was always ours, but strangely wasn't embraced like prior great Celtics until Garnett and Allen arrived.

Garnett and Allen became true Celtics, but they belonged to someone else first. They were Hessians who raised the franchise from the depths and a banner to the rafters. We borrowed their greatness, forged elsewhere. KG belongs more to Minnesota than to us, and Allen's best years were spent in Milwaukee and Seattle.

The Celtics got a fast-food championship. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not the same fan experience as what's happening in Oklahoma City.

Or what could have happened in Boston. The Celtics would have started out with a starting five of Durant, Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Pierce and Perkins. That's three young stars in their primes, the best pure scorer in franchise history, and a rugged center/enforcer.

Instead of playing with a trigger-happy point guard in Russell Westbrook, Durant would have Rondo, the best table-setter this side of Martha Stewart. Instead of playing with a Pierce facsimile in James Harden, he would have the real thing. Instead of having no post presence, he would have had Jefferson.

The thought of Durant spotting up on the wing where Allen does now or taking alley-oop passes from Rondo or running the pick-and-roll with Jefferson is enough to elicit saliva.

Maybe Pierce would have asked out, not wanting to be part of another rebuilding effort. But one look at Durant's talent and he would have thought twice.

That's what the possibility of having Durant in green makes you do.

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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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