As the NBA season winds down, WEEI.com’s basketball roundtable discussed the Celtics, the NBA and if anyone can prevent us from enduring a LeBron-Kobe hypefest in the NBA Finals.
1. Who is your Celtics MVP?
Paul Flannery: The numbers tell me it’s Rajon Rondo, but I’m going to go with Paul Pierce, who has been the rock for the Celtics this year. It hasn’t been his best year, but it’s been his important year.
Jessica Camerato: Co-MVP honors go to Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Rondo gets the team going and Allen finishes it off.
Kirk Minihane: I’ll go with Rondo. Okay, so he’ll never be Dell Curry. But he can do everything else (and is shooting nearly 51 percent). Three players in the NBA are averaging at least eight assists and five rebounds per game this season -- Rondo, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Plus he is a legitimate All-NBA First Team defender. Probably Pierce is the right choice, but Rondo has had a terrific season.
Dan Guttenplan: Paul Pierce. Tommy Heinsohn said so.
Trags (just Trags): Rajon Rondo. He’s been the motor of the high-performance engine all season.
2. Who has been the top bench player?
Flannery: Eddie House has been at times the only scoring option off the bench and his willingness to adapt to several roles makes him the ideal reserve.
Camerato: Glen Davis may have been given a starting role, but Eddie House is a consistent spark plug who has the ability to change the game with a single shot.
Minihane: Leon Powe. He has developed into a solid NBA player. I think he could be a 15-9 guy on the right team (and that team could be the Celtics in 2010-11).
Guttenplan: Big Baby, who really improved his ability to handle Garnett's constructive criticism.
Trags: Eddie House. His threes have singled handedly energized the team at critical times.
3. Who, or what, has been the biggest surprise of the Celtics season?
Flannery: While I always thought it was too early to start wondering about the end of Ray Allen’s career, his season has defied expectations. Shooting guards in their 30’s are not supposed to get better, but Allen has been the Celtics most improved player this season.
Camerato: After coasting by relatively injury-free last season, the Celtics got slammed ... and still managed to win 60 games.
Minihane: For me, it has been a healthy Ray Allen. I had him penciled in for 60-65 games and 16 ppg before the season started. But he’s missed just a single game and has played much better than in 2007-08 (shooting up from 44.5 to 48 percent).
Guttenplan: I'm surprised Kevin McHale didn't hand-deliver a replacement for James Posey.
Trags: The emergence of Big Baby Davis as a go-to player in Doc’s regular rotation.
4. Who, or what, has been the biggest disappointment of the Celtics season?
Flannery: Patrick O’Bryant. He had a chance to be a legitimate player for a contender and he blew it. Honorable mention -- the injuries preventing a great race between the Cavs and Celtics for the top seed.
Camerato: Injuries made it impossible to ever know if the Celtics could have played better than last season.
Minihane: The Garnett injury is a tough break, but that stuff happens. Maybe Marbury? I thought he’d be a decent option off the bench for 15-20 minutes or so. Hasn’t happened.
Guttenplan: Lucky, the Mascot.
Trags: Injuries get in the way of a team that could’ve won 66 games again and home court.
5. What was the best game of 2008-09?
Flannery: The overtime loss to the Lakers in Boston had it all: great individual play, confrontations, controversy, and a playoff atmosphere in the building.
Camerato: Ray Allen's clutch performance in the Celtics double-overtime win against the Charlotte Bobcats was an instant ESPN Classic.
Minihane: Celtics 112, Heat 108 (OT) on March 18. Somehow, a game with no KG, no Ray Allen and no Dwyane Wade made for great theatre, thanks largely to Pierce and his 16 fourth-quarter points. A genuine thriller that was totally unexpected.
Guttenplan: Opening Night. The Celtics received their championship rings and sent an early message to the Cavs.
Trags: This one is easy. The double-OT thriller with Charlotte on April 1. Ray Allen wills the team to a win with three after three in the two overtimes.
6. What under-the-radar storyline deserved more play?
Flannery: It’s funny because he received a lot of attention, but I’m still not sure people understand how good Rondo actually is.
Camerato: The maturation of Kendrick Perkins after getting T'ed up every five minutes at the beginning of the season.
Minihane: Is there one? If there is I don’t see it.
Guttenplan: How does Eddie House feel about Stephon Marbury?
Trags: Kendrick Perkins as one of the very best defenders of the paint in the NBA.
7. What over-hyped storyline needed to die?
Flannery: The loss of James Posey. It happened. Get over it.
Camerato: The significance of the Celtics’ Christmas Day loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. It was, after all, just one game.
Minihane: Posey. At least for now. How many more games do the Celtics win this season with Posey on the roster? Two, three? Not enough to get past Cleveland.
Guttenplan: The notion that Marbury's acquisition would have a significant impact on the team.
Trags: Stephon Marbury in the regular season. Everyone knows he was brought here for the playoffs. And that should be fascinating to watch.
8. How would you rate the job Doc Rivers did this year?
Flannery: As I wrote last week, I think Doc has done a tremendous job this year. The one knock would have be not managing Paul Pierce’s minutes as effectively as he would have liked.
Camerato: On top of winning 60 games, he has fast-tracked the development of his young players like Rondo and Davis and kept the rest of the team grounded as world champions.
Minihane: I’d give him a B+. They lost some games they shouldn’t have (and would not have last season) and lost focus for a while after the streak, but no KG for 20 games and still reaching 60 wins is nice work by the coaches.
Guttenplan: He's doing well ... His players seem to like him, which sets him apart from 75 percent of the league's coaches.
Trags: Anywhere between great and Coach of the Year. He managed to keep this bunch motivated and win in the neighborhood of 60 games again while finding time to rest his starts and get them healthy.
9. Has this been a successful regular season?
Flannery: Sixty wins, improvement from Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. Yes.
Camerato: Considering the circumstances, their record is a success. That being said, failing to secure homecourt advantage could haunt the Celtics in the playoffs.
Minihane: Sure. It’s been a strange ride, but is there anyone who wouldn’t have signed for 60 wins at the start of the season?
Guttenplan: Did Alex Rodriguez come up with this question? Who cares? (Ed. Note: Thanks for playing, Dan)
Trags: From the standpoint of qualifying for the playoffs, sure. But 50, 60 or 70 wins makes no difference. All eyes are on April and May.
10. How far will the Celtics go in the playoffs?
Flannery: So much of it depends on Garnett, but I’m just having a hard time seeing them get past the Cavaliers without homecourt.
Camerato: The Celtics may be able to overcome KG's injury, but whether or not they can win on the road will be the determining factor. This year the Eastern Conference goes through Cleveland.
Minihane: Eastern Conference Finals (out in seven).
Guttenplan: Eastern Conference Finals ... In the words of Omar Little, "If you come at the King, you best not miss."
Trags: Still no answers for LeBron by the Lake. Until they find a way to be LeBron in his house, they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and that’s it.
11. Who is your MVP?
Flannery: LeBron James, hands down, but Dwight Howard should be second.
Camerato: LeBron James. Leading the Cleveland Cavaliers in scoring and assists proves his value goes beyond individual performances.
Minihane: LeBron James. Not even close. One of the 10 or 15 best seasons in history. If you took James off the Cavs would that team win 25 games?
Guttenplan: LeBron James ... Although the sixth "really" seems superfluous.
Trags: Is there really any doubt? LeBron.
12. Who is your Rookie of the Year?
Flannery: It’s Derrick Rose, but this rookie class is really deep and I wouldn’t be so sure that Rose winds up being the best player in this draft. I’m looking at you, Michael Beasley.
Camerato: Derrick Rose. Thanks to this 20-year-old, the Chicago Bulls are heading back to the playoffs.
Minihane: Derrick Rose over O.J. Mayo and Russell Westbrook.
Guttenplan: Derrick Rose, although Russell Westbrook is the sexy pick. But I'm getting married, so I'll stick with the sure-thing.
Trags: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls. Every time Doc Rivers talks about him, he shudders at his potential.
13. Who is your Coach of the Year?
Flannery: Mike Brown allowed the Cavs to transition from a defense-first team to a well-rounded offensive machine. Now if he would quit whining about LeBron not getting every call.
Camerato: Rick Adelman, Houston Rockets. Tracy McGrady goes out for the season and the Rockets are still in the mix for the second seed in the West.
Minihane: Stan Van Gundy. Do you realize that he has a career record of 222-125 (.640 winning percentage)? Solid. No Jameer since February and still looking at 60 wins.
Guttenplan: Gregg Popovich ... until further notice.
Trags: Doc Rivers. He followed an NBA title up with another great regular season, all the while motivating his players in the face of key injuries.
14. All-NBA First Team?
Flannery: You can only pick two guards (sorry, Kobe) so: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard. (And I see almost everyone else cheated. Nice.)
Camerato: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwight Howard – an MVP candidate at every position.
Minihane: G: Chris Paul, G: Dwyane Wade, F: Kobe Bryant (Hey, it’s my team. I’ll take him over any forward), F: LeBron James (Hey, it’s my team Part II. He’s 6’9, right? We can play him at PF), C: Dwight Howard
Guttenplan: Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Tim Duncan, and Dwight Howard. One more year until Kevin Durant enters the discussion.
Trags: Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
15. What GM/executive made the best roster moves?
Flannery: The payoff will still have to come but Sam Presti has done everything right in order to give the former Sonics a strong foundation.
Camerato: While the Eastern Conference can thank Denver Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien for taking the Detroit Pistons out of contention with the Allen Iverson trade, Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry's finally found LeBron James the help he needed in Mo Williams to become a true contender.
Minihane: Mark Warkentein wins this based on Iverson/Billups alone.
Guttenplan: Denver's Mark Warkentien ... Iverson for Billups was a nice fleecing.
Trags: The Denver Nuggets GM Mark Warkentien acquired Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson and his team took off, winning the Midwest Division while the Pistons never found their grove with AI.
16. What was the biggest story of 2008-09?
Flannery: It was supposed to be LeBron James’ impending free agency, but it became LeBron’s ruling of the universe. On-court focus makes David Stern smile.
Camerato: (Undeservingly) Where will LeBron play in 2010?
Minihane: I think the jump by LeBron from “current superstar” to “all-time great”. Followed closely by the bizarre (on about 300 different levels) Cheryl Miller-Scot Pollard showdown on NBA TV.
Dan: LeBron putting together his first NBA championship season.
Trags: Up to 15 teams having to borrow money to stay viable and the league responding by making $175-200 million available.
17. What’s the biggest story no one’s talking about?
Flannery: When the economic fallout hits the league, and it hasn’t really yet, we might be looking at a completely different NBA landscape in a year or two. Hello, Las Vegas Kings.
Camerato: Dwyane Wade's argument for MVP. He leads the league in scoring, took the Miami Heat from 15 wins to fifth seed, and still gets completely overshadowed by LeBron and Kobe.
Minihane: Danny Granger. Do you know he’s averaging 25.5 points a night? Score one for Larry Legend (Granger was the 17th pick of the 2005 draft. The 18th pick? Gerald Green).
Guttenplan: Larry Brown makes Michael Jordan look like a competent NBA executive.
Trags: The likely shrinkage of the salary cap in the coming years with the economy and its impact on player rosters. LeBron may go to New York but now, by himself.
18. What’s been the biggest surprise (player or team)?
Flannery: Atlanta’s rise from curiosity to legitimately good NBA team has been interesting, and Kevin Durant’s emergence could be the start of a new era.
Camerato: Last season's first round scare was not a fluke -- the Atlanta Hawks are for real.
Minihane: Let’s assume that the Cavs beat the 76ers Wednesday. 40-1 at home to match the best team in my lifetime? Never expected that before the season began. I thought that mark was untouchable (of course, that Celtics team ran the table in the playoffs and went 39-2 at home the next season).
Guttenplan: The Orlando Magic ... Kept plugging away after Jameer Nelson -- an All-Star point guard -- suffered a season-ending injury.
Trags: The emergence of the Portland Trail Blazers. With the help of Brandon Roy and someone named Oden, they reached the 50-win plateau in a return to playoff relevancy.
19. What’s been the biggest disappointment (player or team)?
Flannery: The Elton Brand acquisition completely blew up in Philly’s face, but Toronto has been an even bigger mystery.
Camerato: Aside from the A.I. trade, the Charlotte Bobcats still have never made it to the playoffs. After beating the Lakers (twice) and the Celtics, the best Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, and Raja Bell can come up with is 35 wins?
Minihane: For me it’s the Raptors. This should not be a 50-loss team. Chris Bosh is not a franchise player. Superstars in their prime do not play a full season and miss the playoffs.
Guttenplan: Elton Brand. Who would've thought one guy could ruin three teams in the same offseason?
Trags: Detroit Pistons. They got Allen Iverson and took a nosedive toward the bottom of the playoff heap in the East.
20. What teams in the East and West can prevent us from LeBron-Kobe Finals?
Flannery: It’s really up to the Celtics in the East, but I love the Houston Rockets chances provided Ron-Ron doesn’t implode.
Camerato: With Kevin Garnett on the court, don't count the out the defending champions. Last time I checked, they were still the defending champions. West: Combine Chris Paul with James Posey's experience shutting down Kobe Bryant, and the New Orleans Hornets could challenge the Lakers.
Minihane: It is possible that the Celtics could beat the Cavs. They could steal a game in Cleveland. I don’t see a team in the West that can beat the Lakers four times in seven games. Gun to my head I’d go with the Rockets.
Guttenplan: In the East, the Celtics; if Garnett has been faking his injury. In the West, potentially a better team of lawyers in Colorado.
Trags: A reasonably healthy Kevin Garnett can still cause match-up and quickness problems for the Cavaliers. In the West, Chris Paul, David West and James Posey and the New Orleans Hornets still quietly put fear in the hearts of the Lakers, with the Nuggets a close second.