- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 1, 2007

With Kevin Garnett joining Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, the previously moribund Celtics have advanced their cause in the junior varsity circuit known as the Eastern Conference.

This unexpected about-face eases the suffering of a franchise whose roots extend to the NBA’s inaugural campaign of 1946-47.

The Celtics have not been a truly relevant franchise since the principal designers of the trade, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale, were running alongside the late Dennis Johnson, Larry Bird and Robert Parish in the old Boston Garden.

The Celtics won the last of their 16 NBA championships in 1986, last appeared in the NBA Finals in 1987 and were cursed by the deaths of Len Bias in 1986 and Reggie Lewis in 1993.

If Bias had not surrendered his life to cocaine, the Celtics might have added another three or four championship banners to their collection.

Bias was that potentially special, enough so that his presence would have eased the physical burden on both McHale and Bird in the late ‘80s.

Perhaps McHale would not have felt compelled to play on a broken foot in 1987 and compromise the rest of his career if Bias had been around.

This is the unknowable of the Celtics, a once-proud franchise with nearly a generation’s worth of misery, eased only by their run to the conference finals in 2002.

But now, with Allen, Pierce and Garnett forming one of the most imposing trios in the NBA, the Celtics can think the giddy thoughts of a defined-down contender.

This is the same franchise that spent the spring tanking games as a means to improve its lottery chances in the Greg Oden-Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

This breaking of a trust with the ticket-buying public did not work. The Celtics ended up with the No. 5 pick overall in the NBA Draft in June.

That seemed appropriate at the time, although the Celtics used the pick to land Allen, a sweet-shooting guard whose greatest flaw is a birth certificate that reveals he is 32 years old.

Shooting guards rarely age well in the NBA. Yet Ainge has reason to believe that Allen could be one of the exceptions because of a shooting touch that will not deteriorate because of age.

That truism was certainly self-evident with Reggie Miller in his waning seasons with the Pacers.

Garnett, at 31, has lots of wear on his body as one of the first players to jump to the NBA from high school.

Yet he is a 7-footer, and 7-footers usually have considerably more shelf life than guards and small forwards who are much more dependent on their speed and quickness.

Ainge had a sense of urgency because of the threat on his job security and the mandate to surround Pierce with players capable of providing immediate dividends.

By landing Garnett, the Celtics are finished with their countless rebuilding efforts and prepared to pay the luxury tax, if only to have a long-shot opportunity to return to their banner-raising glory of yesteryear.

That is the boom-or-bust thinking, ever risky because of the age of the threesome and the need of coach Doc Rivers to give them big minutes because of an otherwise threadbare roster.

If one of the Big Three succumbs to injury for an extended period, the plan could go the way of the Wizards last season.

A team could go from having the best record in the conference before the All-Star break to being an afterthought going into the playoffs.

The egalitarian nature of the conference undoubtedly contributed to Ainge’s motivation to make the deal.

The deal would not have been justifiable in the Western Conference. The Celtics would be no lock to garner a playoff berth there and saddled with bloated contracts.

Yet in the East, the Celtics can count themselves as being back.

How it all shakes out depends on Ainge’s follow-up moves, the durability of Pierce, Allen and Garnett and an 82-game season that taxes even the strongest.

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