The term "title contender" can be used very loosely to describe NBA teams beneath the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder. Two-and-a-half weeks into the season, there's been so much inconsistency that power rankings don't even matter.
It can be argued that one's standing in the playoffs may not be that important either. In the last lockout shortened season, the New York Knicks, the Eastern Conference's eighth seed, made it all the way to the 1999 finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
That season was full of unpredictable events and, once again, we're already seeing that. The point is, anything can happen, so no team is a shoo-in for the finals. The three teams I listed above are in better position than the other 27 teams.
Among those 27 teams, we have the Boston Celtics. Less than two years removed from their last final's appearance, Doc Rivers and the Big Three face a lot of questions; not just for this season, but next year as well.
I've stated in my past few articles that GM Danny Ainge needs to figure out if this team is really a contender by the March 15 trade deadline, so that he can unload what value he has left (i.e. the Big Three plus Rajon Rondo).
Currently, Boston sits at eighth place in the East, though they're in better position than what their 4-4 record suggests. The four wins are against the conference's worst teams, and two of the losses were pretty ugly.
So, what makes these Celtics a threat to win it all?
Coach Rivers has suggested that his team will compete 100 percent every night, which is a given. What's not a given, however, is that each of his four best players will be available every game.
I'm guessing probably 40 percent of that formula has panned out so far. Paul Pierce already missed the first three games of the season, and Garnett has been a non-factor.
Rondo and Allen have shown that they can rise to the occasion, but the other two need to erase the question marks next to their names.
We know KG can be the most emotional and competitive player in the league. So let's assume that, if the Celtics are in the playoffs, he'll give them at least that. For now, let's focus on "The Truth."
The life-long Celtics gives a lot of intangibles on the court. Command in the locker room isn't solely done by him, as he has KG and Allen as strong voices as well. So what he gives to this team is more about his play on the court.
We already know what Pierce can do in that regard. Yes, he is physical. Yes, he can get to the free throw line, make jump shots, play defense and, most importantly, hit the game-winning shot.
So the answer is yes, Paul Pierce makes Boston a legitimate threat in the playoffs. A common theme in all championship teams has been a player that can put the team on his back. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and the list goes on.
Even at this age, the 34-year-old can carry this team. All the support he'll need will come from the team's next best three players.
Rondo may still be the future of the Celtics, but Pierce will do everything he can to assure that the present is still vital.