We all know that it is hard for teams to repeat as champions. None of the Celtics championship teams of the 70's or 80's repeated as champions. They won in 1974 and 1976 and in 1975 and 1977, they didn't even make it to the finals. They had some lean years from 1977 until 1981 when they won their next championship, Once again, after winning in 1981, they failed to make the finals in 1982 and 1983. They won the championship once again in 1984 but in 1985, they lost to the Lakers. They won once again in 1986, but then came the 22 year drought until they won again last year. They had very good teams the year following each of those championships, but still weren't able to repeat as champions.
The Celtics are favored to win the East again next season. Here is what Marty Burns said in his Eastern Conference preview:
1. Celtics: The loss of veteran forward James Posey (via free agency to the Hornets) could hurt, especially come playoff time, but for now Boston has to be considered the East favorite again. General manager Danny Ainge re-signed key reserves Eddie House and Tony Allen, and Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen should be even better with another year together (assuming they're not too worn out from last season's long playoff run). The bottom line is that the defending champs didn't make any significant moves ... but they didn't need to.
Even without James Posey, the Celtics should be better this season. As Burns said, with a year together under their belt, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett should be better together. Ray Allen finally figured out where he fit in the scheme of things in the Finals and I expect him to pick up where he left off last year. The domination in the finals was the result of the three of them having the experience of the year together.
Not only will the three stars play better together, but Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins will be a year better. Tony Allen was finally coming on in the Finals and this could be the year he puts it all together. Eddie House returns and is determined to be better this season. Both Big Baby and Leon Powe are working hard this summer and will be improved. Just the experience of the playoffs and the Finals will make this team better. Add to this the addition of two very promising and athletic draft picks and on paper it seems as though the Celtics should repeat as champions.
But, there are several things working against any NBA champions repeating. One is the fact that all the other teams spend their summer trying to match up with the champions and make moves with an eye toward how they can beat the champs. Every team in the Atlantic Division are making big moves. The Raptors brought in Jermaine O'Neal to give their team a defensive presence to match up with the Celtics front line. The Sixers brought in Elton Brand to try to match up with Kevin Garnett. The Nets may have gone backwards by going young with Yi and breaking up their big three of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson. The Knicks are still making changes but will be a much different team than they were in 2007-08.
The Cavs have brought in a veteran point guard who can share the scoring load with LeBron. They came close to beating the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and it is possible that the moves that they made this off season could be enough catch up with the Champions. The Pistons haven't made any major moves, but there are rumors swirling around them that they still may make a trade. The Bulls added the number one pick to a team that underachieved last season. The Heat should be much tougher with a healthy Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion along with the addition of Michael Beasley. So, the competition will be much stronger and the Celtics will be playing with a bullseye on their backs. Every team is out to defeat the champions and will play their best against them.
Even with the improvements in the other teams and the fact that they go all out to defeat the champs, the biggest challenge may come from within the Champions themselves. Last year at this time, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were all in Boston and working out along with the majority of the younger players who had been there much of the summer. They had a hunger right from the beginning to get that ring that had alluded all three of them throughout their careers. They were on a mission to win the title right from the beginning.
Fast forward to this off season and from all the reports, Paul Pierce is still celebrating the championship. He is in Las Vegas coming home from a club at 3:30 PM. He is hosting Mike and Mike. He is working out some, but no where near the extent he worked out last off season. There has been no word from Kevin Garnett and knowing him, he is already deep into his off season work out regimen. But, he isn't working with the other two as a team like they did last season. Ray Allen has been taking it easy and playing a lot of golf and that in itself isn't a bad thing. He needs to get some rest after the playoff run, but the point is, there just isn't that drive and that hunger like they had last summer.
Starting today and continuing for two weeks, the Timberwolves will have nine of their top players -- including Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Kevin Love, Randy Foye, Ryan Gomes, Corey Brewer, Chris Richard and Mike Miller -- working out every day at Target Center. They will be around until Labor Day, take 10 days off, then resume workouts out until training camp opens.
It was the Celtics last season who had the majority of their players in town working out together. This season teams like the Timberwolves have that hunger for a ring and are getting an early start. There have been a couple of the Celtics' young players in town all summer working hard, but where last season they were all there, this season the 3 stars have had their hunger satisfied with a championship and they don't have that urgency that drew them all together last season and that is bringing teams like the Timberwolves together now.
Finally, there is luck. The Celtics had a couple of minor injuries, but nothing major that would knock a major player out for a long time. Injuries can knock a contender out of the race no matter how good the team is or how many stars it has. If they can't play due to injury, they aren't going to win. The 1986 Celtics were virtually injury free with just a few minor setbacks. The 1987 team was beset with injury after injury as their aging stars struggled to stay healthy. For some reason, it is difficult for contending teams to remain free of major injuries two seasons in a row. The Celtics did it last season, can they do it again this year? Only time will tell.
On paper and in most of the rankings, the Celtics will be favored to win it all again. But, will they have the hunger to put it all out there on the court every game like they did last season? So far, they aren't showing the same hunger they did last season to come together early and work as a team toward that goal. Can they get past the improved competition? Can they stay healthy a second season in a row? A lot of questions must be answered before the Celtics can be crowned repeat champions.