The summer of 2008 will mark a tumultuous period in this nation's distinguished history, but it will have nothing to do with the presidential election. It will be the year the Boston Celtics win and raise their 17th championship banner, and three of their key players go on to help Team USA win the gold in Beijing.
Sportswriters will crawl all over themselves trying to explain how they did it. Much like this year's creed was teamwork, the watchword in 2008 will be "chemistry." The Celtics, they will note, have a lot of chemistry. Chemistry subsumes teamwork: Boston plays like a team. They trust each other. But more than that, they have the indescribable chemistry that, like good art, can only be pointed out but not defined.
Where did the chemistry come from? NBA historians and analysts will dig long and hard through the piles of paperwork and interviews accumulated in print, on the radio, and on the web, but they will find nothing. The players will praise each other, the coaching staff, and the management. The coaching staff will praise the players. The management will praise both the coaching staff and the players.
Red Auerbach will be 91 years old in November, 2008 when the 17th championship banner is hoisted to the rafters. He will light a cigar. He will wipe a tear. He will give a speech.
Red will explain all about chemistry.
Chemistry differs from mere teamwork. The attributes of teamwork that are commonly promoted are selflessness and sacrifice for the good of the team. Compared with selfish play, those attributes help bring the team along the right path to growth. But they are themselves flawed.
Selflessness is stupid. Do you pass up an open shot, instead passing to another open teammate to increase his confidence? Do you focus on setting picks instead of hoisting threes because that's what the coach said? No.
The first order of teamwork is executing plays together and communicating before and during their execution to ensure that the best option within the play is executed. Similarly, defensive rotations require working as a team and communicating about potential gaps and weaknesses.
Teamwork will get you to that point. You can call it self-sacrifice and selflessness if you want, and to a degree it may be true for a certain caliber of player who grew up playing flashy one-on-one ball, but that's where it ends.
That's where teamwork ends and chemistry begins.
Teamwork takes individual talent as a given and seeks to create five-person plays both offensively and defensively. Chemistry takes the ability to execute plays as a given and seeks to create a sixth sense of knowing even in broken plays where your teammates will be. Chemistry gives the illusion of everyone having eyes in the back of their head.
Individual talent players will notice after the game how many points they scored or rebounds they grabbed or free throws they missed.
Team players will notice after the game how many total assists the team tallied and how many defensive stops they caused as a team.
Chemistry players will notice after the game whether they won or lost.
How will this chemistry be accomplished? How is any chemistry accomplished? The NBA historians will look back to the 2004 offseason as the symbol of the change, much like the dismantling of the Berlin wall symbolized a movement towards freedom. It was not the real beginning but an intermediary step set so close to the beginning as to allow it to be associated with the start.
The 2004 offseason saw the Celtics draft Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Tony Allen. In hindsight, in 2008, this will appear to be one of the best drafts by any non-lottery of all time.
In 2008, Paul Pierce will be 30 years old. Mark Blount will be 33. Pierce will still start but Blount will likely be the back up to the amazingly versatile Kendrick Perkins, who at 23 is just entering his prime. Starting alongside him in the frontcourt will be Al Jefferson, also 23. They will be what Chicago could never accomplish with Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler: a young, powerful, and longlasting frontcourt duo.
Pierce will have picked up his option to remain with the club for over $16 million per year and will be a free agent in the offseason. He will as always play his heart out in the Finals, posting one of his career-best games. His Kansas teammate Raef LaFrentz will ably backup Jefferson. Doc Rivers will go to LaFrentz when he wants to stretch the opposing big man to the three point line and to free the lane for Pierce.
Ricky Davis will also be in his last year. No one will even remember that questions of character ever arose about the All-Star forward.
When the opponents place their second unit in the game in the second quarter, they will expect to face a lower level of competition. Unfortunately for them, Boston's second unit could give them even more fits. Tony Allen, 26, and Delonte West, 24, will form an explosive duo. Marcus Banks, 26, will backup Jiri Welsch, 28, who the season before was re-signed to the MLE for several more years.
That is the key to the Celtics secret chemistry and to their historic mystique: their players like each other, they are smart, and they play together for a long time.
That's it. Chemistry is just that simple. Red will point that out in his speech.
The draft of 2004 will be significant because it will represent a way to get a core of players to play with each other for years. When they won, the Celtics had a core that remained the same for years, and at times decades. Only after the Larry Bird teams did various surprises interfere with the Celtic concept of growing together as a team over time: first it was the sudden death of superstar draft pick Len Bias. Then it was the sudden and tragic death of Reggie Lewis. Then it was the constant fiddling with the roster by Rick Pitino, who was looking to create a brand of basketball with interchangeable players more suited to college success than the professional ranks. The constant roster turnover prevent the very mystique that the Celtics had long sought.
Danny Ainge this year has turned over virtually the entire roster, but it would be wrong to assume he just likes trading for its own sake. He has very carefully built a core of players who will be together, under contract, for the next threee or four years. He has picked players that ought to work well together: Pierce and Davis are buddies from the West coast; Pierce and LaFrentz were college teammates. Jefferson and Perkins are both young bucks thrust into the limelight.
Nine of the Celtics going into the new year's roster will still be Celtics, barring trades, through 2008. Ten, if you count a re-signed Jiri Welsch.
Chemistry will be the watchword of the 2008 offseason. The Celtics will win their historic 17th championship because of chemistry. And Team USA will reclaim the gold at the Olympics because they will have started training together earlier and they will have gotten their own chemistry before even the exhibition games roll around. Part of the reason will be because Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, and Kendrick Perkins will be going to that team as well.
Chemistry. Gold. Leprechauns. Sounds like alchemy. It's not: it's merely a prediction.