Marc Stein over on ESPN.com has posted his preview of the Eastern Conference. A big surprising to me is his ranking of the Celtics at #7. In spite of my high expectations for this team, I have come to expect negativism from the media. Celtics haven't gotten respect from the media for a long time, nor have they earned it. But with this group of hungry young players, I believe that they will earn respect and surprise a lot of people. If it weren't for all the injuries last season, I think we would have been much better and have opened a few eyes. This year, I am once again expecting great things and honestly feel that we will have a very good season.
Ranked above us on Stein's list are the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Cavs, Bucks, and Raptors. The Heat have to be the favorites with the entire Championship team returning, but an injury to an aging Shaq could put a wrench into their hopes to repeat. Bulls have made some great moves and, like the Celtics, have a young roster with a lot of talent but with a bit more experience than the Celts. The addition of Ben Wallace has to move them to the next level. Any team with LeBron has to be ranked up there. He kind of wills them to win. The question marks in this group are the Pacers, Bucks and Raptors, all of which could be top teams or could falter. Here is what Stein had to say about the Celtics:
7. BOSTON CELTICS The good news: Paul Pierce was signed to a three-year contract extension that will keep him off next summer's free-agent market. The better news: Danny Ainge didn't pull a Brian Scalabrine and needlessly bestow $15 million over five years to a marginal reserve.
Ainge also just locked up Stein Line favorite Kendrick Perkins on reasonable extension terms ... and I'll even sanction the notion that Theo Ratliff occasionally might provide a much-needed defensive presence. But let's not get carried away.
Even after Ainge acquired Rajon Rondo's draft rights and traded for Sebastian Telfair to join holdover point guard Delonte West, not much has changed for the Celts. They still have a slew of interesting youngsters around Pierce, but we've been saying that for a while now. Unless a few of them graduate from interesting to something, starting with Al Jefferson, it won't be long before the Pierce trade chatter fires up again.
I believe that several of our young players, including Perk, Jefferson, Gomes, and West are going to graduate from being interesting to being stars on the brink this season. When they do, don't count the Celtics out from moving up this list.
We could easily be ranked 4th because we are just as capable of being that high, just as much as Toronto and Milwaukee are.
I don't agree that we are basically the same team as last year. We now have real PG's running the show, we have a veteran defensive presence in place, we've hired a big man coach who has made a world of difference wherever he's gone, a bunch of our young players have been working hard on their games over the summer and should be bigger contributors this season, etc.