Happy 56th Birthday Larry Bird

Well it’s another legendary Celtics player’s birthday. It was on this day 56 years ago in the small town of French Lick, Indiana that the Celtics greatest player of all-time was born.

There’s really no place to start with describing how good Larry Bird was when trying to write this blog. I could probably write 1,500 words, and it still wouldn’t be enough.

In sports, one of the most overused words is amazing. It’s used all the time when a big moment occurs, or when a player does something that stuns the fans and media. But using it to describe Bird isn’t an overstatement. He was that good, and for many Celtics fans, he was simply the best.

For 13 years he, along with Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, led the Celtics to three championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. In addition, they went to the Finals in 1985 and 1987. The three players also formed arguably the greatest front court in NBA history, and were dubbed the Big Three. But Bird was the straw that stirred the drink. During two of the championships, he earned the Finals MVP in 1984 and 1986.

Bird also won Rookie of the Year in 1980, league MVP three times from 1984-1986, and made the All-Star team 12 times.

Throughout the 80s, he and Los Angeles Lakers guard Magic Johnson formed a friendly rivalry that brought interest back to the NBA. After Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain retired, the league went into an attendance and lack of interest funk in the 70s. But the 80s were all about the Celtics and Lakers. Johnson would win five championships versus Bird’s three. In total, the Celtics and Lakers won eight out of a possible ten championships during this decade.

Despite the Lakers winning more, the 1985-1986 Celtics team is considered by many fans and media personalities alike to be the greatest basketball team of all-time. The Celtics went 67-15 on the way to their 16th franchise championship. They were so good that they lost just one game at home, in the Boston Garden, and that includes the playoffs as well. Like I mentioned above, Bird won the league MVP, and Finals MVP that year.

Bird was also the ultimate team player. He often sacrificed his body for the good of the team by diving on the floor for loose balls. In fact, his style of play led to numerous back injuries and an early retirement at the age of 35. To this day his back isn’t right, and it’s a reason why he resigned as president of basketball operations of the Indiana Pacers this past offseason.

There are even many moments of when he came up clutch, and I’ll name a few. Who could forget Bird stealing an inbound pass by Isiah Thomas during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons? How about him exploding for 60 points against the Atlanta Hawks back in 1985? In fact, it was Bird who scored all 16 of the Celtics final points in that game.

Today, when fans debate on who was the greatest Celtics player of all-time, the argument always ends with either Bird or Russell. The late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach even dumped fuel onto that debate by saying Bird was the greatest basketball player of all-time. Despite all the accolades and honors from the basketball world, Bird is still just a quiet guy from French Lick, Indiana.

Happy Birthday Larry!

Photo (cc) by nantonin and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Celtics Pick Up Avery Bradley’s Option for 2013-2014 Season

The Celtics exercised the 2013-2014 option for Avery Bradley today. The extension means he’ll fulfill his entire four year rookie contract, then become a free agent after that season.

Bradley will make $2,511,432 for the 2013-2014 season. He’s making $1,630,800 this season.

Analysis

This move was expected.

Bradley will be the starting shooting guard next to Rajon Rondo once he gets back from rehabbing his shoulders after receiving double shoulder surgery in the offseason.

He emerged as a defensive star last season after Doc Rivers had to use him to fill in for an injured Ray Allen. Once Allen came back, it was hard to take Bradley out of the starting lineup. He wasn’t only playing defense, but he was nailing 3-pointers and jumpshots on a regular basis.

Bradley formed a strong relationship with Rondo to a point where they had excellent chemistry. Rondo would use Bradley’s speed on slash plays where Bradley would run pass his defender and go under the basket to take a Rondo pass to lay it in. In the playoffs, their chemistry drove the Hawks, 76ers and Heat crazy and once Bradley was injured, the Celtics were much weaker.

It was fun to watch, and as the second half of last season went on, Celtics’ fans knew they had a budding star on their hands. Bradley even led Allen to leave Boston because Rivers planned to put him in the starting lineup over Allen who’d come off the bench, which was something he wasn’t keen on.

Next up for Bradley, besides getting healthy, is to get a contract extension. Hopefully, the development of Bradley is proof that the Celtics will keep trying to develop young players so they don’t have to rely on the free agent market for veterans to round out the roster.

For now, it’s going to be fun watching Bradley for the next two years.

Position by Position Preview: Centers

Let’s start off with the center position preview.

Last year, the Celtics started the season with Jermaine O’Neal at center. Anytime you have Jermaine O’Neal starting, it’s not going to end well and the team is going to have to expect that he’ll get injured.

That’s exactly what happened, and it turned out to be a blessing is disguise. What happened next would change the Celtics’ fortunes for the season and for the future.

That change is Kevin Garnett.

Garnett was moved to the center position after O’Neal went down with a wrist injury, and the result was the team was faster. Garnett posted numbers that he hadn’t put up since his first season with the Celtics back in the championship season of 2007-2008. He was rebounding better and scoring at will against almost every opponent. His post moves and shooting ability was deadly. In other words, he found the fountain of youth.

Last season, when he was starting at the four position, he looked old. His numbers were down. He was averaging just 14.3 PPG and 7.5 rebounds a night. When he moved to center, his numbers spiked. His numbers ballooned up to 16.8 PPG and 8.7 RPG. It was great seeing the old KG.

The playoffs was where he really shined. It was like the clock turned back about eight years. Garnett was dropping in double-doubles almost every night. When the Celtics playoff run was ended by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, Garnett was averaging 19.2 PPG and pulling down 10.3 RPG. Those were numbers that we haven’t seen the 36-year-old Garnett average since he was a 27-year-old.

So what’s the reason for Garnett turning into a “younger player” all of a sudden.

Simple, he’s that good and the center position is a position that’s weak and is fading out of the NBA.

Once upon a time the center was key in putting a team together. Almost every team had someone who could at least dominate the paint with rebounding and defense. The last true center in the game was Shaquille O’Neal and he retired after playing with the Celtics during the 2010-2011 season.

The NBA is all about athleticism now. Teams can outrun and outgun anyone with athleticism. Centers on the other hand are normally known for being slow and one-dimensional. In fact, finding a true center who can produce night in and night out is all but extinct if you exclude Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum.

Garnett is part of the new breed of centers in the NBA. He’s tall, athletic, plays defense, can rebound, score and block shots. He does everything well. The downside of him being at center, is he gets abused by some of the top big men in the game and that takes a toll on his body. KG isn’t muscular, so going against a big center is a challenge. It’s a well-known fact that Garnett can’t handle Bynum or Howard. Who can right?

If Garnett puts up numbers like he did in the playoffs and plays his typical stellar defense, the rest of the league is going to have issues with the Celtics. With Howard out west in Laker land, all Garnett has to deal with is Bynum a few times a year. That isn’t bad and he should dominate the competition night in and night out.

To help Garnett get rest and to preserve his body, the Celtics resigned Chris Wilcox, who should be fully recovered from heart surgery last season, and Darko Milicic, the enigmatic 2nd overall pick of the famed 2003 NBA Draft who was a dud. The team also signed defensive-minded and post-up specialist Jason Collins, who gave Garnett a tough time in the playoffs last year when he played with the Atlanta Hawks.

Barring any injury, this position is DEEP. Doc Rivers like the versatility with the personnel he has.

Before Wilcox underwent surprising heart surgery last season, he became a favorite target of Rajon Rondo during fast breaks. He can also rebound, play defense and also fill in at the forward position when needed.

Milicic is a wild card. He’ll never live up to being the 2nd pick of the LeBron James draft.

Never.

What he has to do is accept his role as a key bench player and so far he seems to be doing that. During the preseason, he was one of the team’s best players at setting pick-and-rolls. His passing was excellent for a big man too, and he was able to show off his rebounding prowess and shot blocking ability as well.

I’m not anointing him as the next great center, but for this team, in the role he’s in, he could excel. His six fouls and willingness to use his body to draw fouls is a major plus. Milicic should fill in well with this veteran team. Look for him to get some good playing time this season.

Jason Collins is a veteran who can hold his own against Bynum and Howard. His seven foot frame and large body will keep guys from getting into the paint consistently. That will be his role. Collins was a bust coming out of college at Stanford in 2001. He never fulfilled his potential, and has played very little over the last five years. That shouldn’t change with the Celtics. He’ll play when guys get into foul trouble and against the top centers, so Garnett won’t get his body abused. Collins is an excellent option to use when the Celtics want to use up six fouls on a player.

Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass are also around to play center when the Celtics go small.

Overall, this position is deep and versatile. Everyone knows what Garnett can do, but the question is can the other guys perform consistently every night? Can they rebound, play defense and draw fouls? Can they all accept their role? The Celtics are probably the only team in the league with four legitimate guys who can play center. I believe they can, and if they perform up to standard, then this position will be a position of strength.

Photo (cc) by BangEmSmurf and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.