Hold off on those Celtics obits just yet


Hold off on those Celtics obits just yet

By Rich Levine

MIAMI When a celebrity reaches a certain age, is diagnosed with a devastating disease or starts to live an especially reckless lifestyle, its common practice for news organizations to preemptively write an obituary.

Thinking back to the last few years of Bob Hopes life, there were a few different occasions when his obituary prematurely released to the public. When Elizabeth Taylor passed away last month, the man whose byline appeared on her obit had been dead for six years. On that note, I wouldnt be surprised if there are already a few Charlie Sheen drafts floating around newsrooms across the country.

You probably already knew that, but hey, Im trying to start a column here.

In a way, its a strange to know that these obituaries exist while the subjects are still alive, but I guess you cant fault anyone for thinking ahead. In a world where so much of what happens is entirely shocking and unexpected, its only natural, almost practical, to prepare for the inevitable. It helps with deadlines, eases stresses, even allows for a better product.

Not to mention its something we all do in our everyday lives, as well.

I used celebrities as an example, but it obviously goes much deeper than that with individuals, experiences and relationships that we hold far dearer than Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor or Charlie Sheen. Whether its a sick family member, a doomed relationship, a cross-country move or change in jobs, we spend a lot of time contemplating how circumstances of our present life might end, so that were not entirely blindsided when they do.

At times, that borders on pessimistic and unhealthy, but it does serve a purpose. You dont want harp on the negative, but youd also be careless to ignore its existence all together.

For all these reasons, both practical and emotional, weve spent the better part of the last four years preparing for the end of the Celtics' run among the NBAs elite.

From the moment they got together in the summer of 2007, through the immeasurable levels of optimism and excitement, there was always the recognition that it wouldnt last forever. At first, we gave them a three-year window. Eventually, that was extended to four, with plans laid for a fifth. But while the end was never set in stone, it was always well in sight. And before long, even through the immense success of that first season, those preemptive obituaries slowly began to take shape.

The 2008 championship may have actually expedited the process.

By winning in their first year, the Big Three era became an immediate and eternal success. This team wasnt assembled to only win one title, but after 22 years of nothing, one title was really all anybody needed. It immediately answered all the most important and terrifying questions: What if this doesnt work? What if they dont win? What if they never win? When they did, Boston was free to watch the rest of this cores time together without the fear that Danny Ainges historic experiment would come up short.

We were unbelievably fortunate for this. In fact, it empowered us. And because we never feared the end (not that we were ever looking forward to it) we always looked it right in the eye, and waited its imminent arrival.

In turn, that led to a whole bunch of premature obituaries.

The first ones leaked in the spring of 2009, after it became clear that Kevin Garnetts initially diagnosed two-or-three-week knee injury was far more severe. Will he ever be the same? In that case, will the Celtics? Might this already be the end? A second-round exit, and confusion over what really happened with KG, only increased the speculation.

The team fought off death for the first time that fall, thanks to the addition of Rasheed Wallace and the return of Garnett, but the Grim Reaper quickly resurfaced, as KG struggled to regain his swagger and the rest of the team limped around alongside him both physically and mentally. As they slept-walked through the season, there were serious talks of trading Ray Allen, and many fans had come to accept the possibility. Have they gone as far as they could together? Is it already time to reload? Are they better off without the Big 3?

It was by no means a consensus, but there were plenty of people ready to pull the trigger and send the obituary off to print. The Wizards will give up Jamison AND Butler!? Later, Ray! Its been real.

Ray stayed, but the struggles continued, and the Cs headed into the playoffs at an all-time low. Again, they were done. Again, they had nothing left. Again, it was OK, lets watch them get eliminated by the LeBron, bang out a new opening paragraph and bury these guys at sea . . .

Nope. Not yet.

The Celtics, of course, made one of the most inexplicable turnarounds in NBA history. One that, in retrospect, makes a lot more sense, but in the moment was more unlikely than Andrew Bynum getting an invite to Christmas at the Bareas.

Their legendary run came up 20 minutes short, but the Celtics proved once again, that they couldnt and shouldnt be counted out, no matter how dire the circumstances.

Yet, before the last piece of confetti even hit the Staples Center floor, the obits were back. There was talk of Docs departure, Allens free agency, Paul Pierces option and just the general feeling andor fear that theyd let their last chance slip away.

But not so fast!

Doc was back. Paul was back. Ray was back. They added Jermaine ONeal, Shaquille ONeal and Delonte West. Rondo was now an All-Star and on his way to being a superstar. Kevin Garnett was reinvigorated.

They addressed all the problems, and suddenly they were better equipped than ever before.

After the trade deadline, they were never worse.

They swept the Knicks . . . theyre alive!

They lost the first two in Miami dead!!!

Game 3 blowout . . . they have a chance.

Fourth quarter of Game 4 . . . Yes!

Overtime . . . No!

And here we are. The obituaries are all lined up and ready to go, and it feels like weve never been closer to actually hitting the send button . . .

Then again, weve felt that way so many times before.

Maybe its crazy to think they can pull it off, but maybe its just as crazy to count out a team thats proved you and everyone wrong so many times before.

Or maybe . . . I dont know.

All I know is that theres nothing unrealistic about believing, as long as you never actually lose sight of reality.

And weve never done that with this team.

Weve always been well aware that it can end at any second. Probably even a little more aware than we needed to be. Weve always known that their time atop the Eastern Conference would come to an end. That it would probably happen at the hands of LeBron (although we never imagined the lengths hed go to). That it would leave the Big Three looking old, tired, slow and worn down (although we never imagined Rondo would be in the worse shape of the four and Perk would be in OKC). That the loss would signal a time of serious flux and indecision within Celtics Nation.

And we know tonight could bring that upon us.

But we also know it wouldnt be the first time this team defied the odds on their own mortality and lives to see another day.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?


NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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From now until training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the NBA and the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the NBA MVP?

BOSTON – It’ll be months before we have a feel for who the best players in the NBA will be this season.
But it’s never too soon to start looking at potential NBA candidates, is it?

This year’s MVP race will have plenty of contenders of course, some being familiar faces while there’s likely to be at least one or two who emerge as the season progresses.
Here’s a look at five players who should emerge as league MVP candidates this season:

5. Damian Lillard, Portland
Only 26 years old, the former rookie of the year award winner has been selected to a pair of All-Star games. But that’s not what will make him an MVP candidate this season. He plays for the Blazers, a team whose rebuild following LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, has taken off quicker than expected.
Expectations were extremely low for a Portland team that shocked the NBA world and finished with the fifth-best record in the West and advanced to the second round last season.
Terry Stotts emerged as one of the league’s better coaches and guard C.J. McCollum garnered the league’s Most Improved Player award.
But the engine that makes the Blazers go is Lillard.
The 6-foot-2 guard’s ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and all points on the floor, makes him an extremely difficult cover.
And while the addition of ex-Celtic Evan Turner will help take some of the playmaking pressure off Lillard, this is still his team and will go only as far as he can lead them.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland
As we saw in Cleveland’s run towards the franchise’s first NBA title last season, James can become the most dominant player at both ends of the floor when the game matters most. And while those qualities will certainly make him one of the best in the game, James isn’t likely to be as dominant as we’ve seen in past years.
And the reason can be summed up in two words: Kyrie Irving.
Irving really had a coming out of sorts in the NBA Finals when he outplayed two-time league MVP Stephen Curry which was one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland’s championship aspirations coming to fruition.
And let’s face it.
James can win this award every year and those who vote for him would have plenty of legitimate reasons to do so.
But this season, James will likely be sharing more of the limelight than ever with Irving who may be called upon to pick up more of the offensive slack depending on how things play out with free agent J.R. Smith.

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
As the reigning league MVP each of the past two seasons, it will be difficult for Curry to do enough to garner a 3-peat.
When he won his first MVP award, Golden State was poised to win its first NBA title in 40 years. And last season’s MVP hardware came at the tail-end of an unprecedented season in which Golden State became the gold standard for regular season success with 73 wins.

But this regular season will be one in which Curry’s numbers are likely to take a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Still, Curry will continue to be the player most of the league’s shooting guards are measured against and far more often than not, fall short in their efforts to be as good as Curry.
The addition of Durant will certainly shift some of the immense on-the-floor attention Curry usually gets, which should make for an easier time for Curry.
But here’s the thing.
Just like opponents will be focusing more attention towards Durant, the same holds true for the media and fans which means Curry may in fact become a more efficient player this year with fewer folks actually recognizing it.

2. Paul George, Indiana
With a year back in the game following a horrific knee injury, Paul George is poised to re-enter the league MVP race with a vengeance.
The 6-9 George comes into this season with a number of factors working out in his favor to at least give his candidacy a legitimate shot of getting started.
For starters, he’s as healthy as he has been in years. In the past few years, that has been one of the biggest factors that has kept him from being in the league MVP conversation. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has assembled a talented group whose collective strengths work well with what George brings to the game.
And speaking of the Pacers, those additions along with George’s ability should lift Indiana into being among the top five or six teams in the East. The closer to the top they finish, the better George’s chances become.

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

Even though Durant has joined a Golden State team that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons, he will come in and immediately become the alpha male of this team.

Durant probably won't wind up winning a fifth scoring title, but he will still be among the leagues’ top scorers and lead the Warriors offensively.
And while the success of Golden State will hinge heavily on the contributions of many, their regular season success will be credited in large part to the addition of Durant which can only enhance his chances of winning league MVP for a second time in his career.
He will be the first to tell you that his focus going into this season has absolutely nothing to do with being the NBA’s MVP.
And I believe him.
Durant signed with Golden State to win a championship; it’s that simple.
And in doing so, he bypassed the comfort of staying with Oklahoma City or penning a new narrative in his basketball journey by joining a team trending towards a championship but not quite there yet.
But for him to win a championship, it would mean continuing to be a dominant force while meshing his skills with an even more talented group of teammates.
For Durant to put up numbers similar to those he has in the past AND win more games towards a title, will be more than enough to assert his place among the game’s top players.
It’s what you would expect from the MVP.