Just a month after winning the NBA title, the Boston Celtics championship celebration was cut short.
This July, James Posey opted for money over a shot at defending the title and signed with the New Orleans Hornets. The Celtics unwillingness to splurge on a 31-year-old sixth man dropped them from dominating to vulnerable. No Posey, it seemed, meant no repeat for the Celtics.
Posey had exemplified "Ubuntu" and was the backbone of the deep Celtics bench. His pregame hugs represented the team's chemistry, both on and off the court. The veteran's clutch performances compensated for the inconsistencies of Tony Allen, Leon Powe, and Glen Davis, maintaining stability in the second unit. Posey did too many things to be replaced by just one player.
Good thing for the Celtics, this team is bigger than individual efforts.
The Posey-less Celtics are off to their best start in franchise history (21-2) and have extended their winning streak to 13 games on Thursday night. The bench in question is now one of the Celtics' biggest keys to success. They not only maintain the lead but also allow the starters to cut back on minutes, a benefit that could pay dividends in the playoffs.
The players who Posey once had to pick up the slack for are picking up the slack for the starting five. Last season, aside from the first unit, the three most commonly used rotations included either Posey, Tony Allen or Eddie House alongside four starters. This season Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has been able to play four reserves and just one starter together, still comfortably winning by nearly 10 points per game.
There's no mistaking Posey had an impact on the returning Celtics this season. "It does feel weird without Posey," Leon Powe said on Opening Night. "He was the heart of the second unit and he held everything together. If something came out of line, he was there to put it right back into place. All of us as a whole know we've got to take on that role. We can't let one another slack and don't say nothing. We've got to hold each other accountable."
While the Celtics are thriving without Posey, the Hornets are not experiencing the success many predicted with the swingman. They were also 12-6 through 18 games in 2007 and their margin of victory was the exact same last season. As Posey explained on his Hornets.com blog, finding a winning formula is taking longer than anticipated.
"Well, we're a month into the season, but I feel like we could be doing a lot better," he wrote. "Even though we have a winning record right now, I don't think that it reflects our team. There's still a lot of room to improve, and one of the biggest things we can improve upon is our consistency. We're working hard each day in practice to get everything down and be on the same page as one another. Once our consistency comes together for us, you all are going to see a much different ballclub out there on the floor every night."
Two months into the season the Celtics seemed to have defied the skeptics and overcome the loss of Posey. But the Hornets didn't dish out $35 million for games played in December. Posey's true value is his clutch performance, an asset the Celtics no longer have on their bench. Regardless of how many wins the Celtics have in the regular season, at the end of the day what would you rather have in the postseason, when rotations are smaller and options are fewer: James Posey or Tony Allen guarding LeBron James? James Posey or Glen Davis setting screens against Kobe Bryant? Only one has proven he can consistently come through in the clutch.
At this point in the season the Celtics seem poised to capture another NBA title. But just as it did last summer, Posey's departure could cut their championship celebration short once again.
Jessica Camerato is a regular contributor for WEEI.com.