Exactly four months and 20 days ago, I found myself sitting on a beach late at night with just my thoughts and the night sky. The final buzzer had sounded in Game 7 between the Heat and the Celtics, and the final buzzer had sounded on Boston's season.
With all of this to take in, I needed to take a walk. I found myself on that empty beach with nagging thoughts. The one I couldn't get out of my head was that this could be the end of an era.
"What if the Celtics can't contend for a title next year or any year after that?" I thought.
I also couldn't help but think that Ray Allen was packing his bags as I sat on the beach. Heck, he practically signed a contract on the floor after the game hugging all the Heat players.
Now, four months and 20 days later, I realize that one of my nightmares came true. Ray Allen did leave and has been more talked about in Boston now that he's gone than ever before.
But, despite the fact that the Celtics are a year older and missing their old sharpshooter, they are still contenders.
I've learned over the past five years that you can never count the Celtics out, even though it seems tempting every year. But this year, I'm not even tempted. Top to bottom, this team is far more talented than last year's team and could probably push the 2010 team to seven games.
For a team that had literally zero functioning bench players last year, the Celtics now have more bench players than they know what to do with. Any other year, signing a player like Leandro Barbosa (who tore it up in practice yesterday, by the way) would have been the marquee move of the offseason.
This year, though, his signing is an oversight because it comes after the acquisition of big-name players like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, the re-signing of all major pieces (besides Ray Allen) like Jeff Green and the drafting of Jared Sullinger, who may just be the first Celtics draft pick to contribute in his rookie season since Al Jefferson eight years ago.
All of the pieces have come into place during the past four months and 20 days. Now it is time to play ball yet again.
And as Hurricane Sandy is ravaging the East Coast and Boston, so is the excitement that basketball is back.
Now all Celtics fans have far different thoughts than the ones in my head on June 9:
We get to watch Kevin Garnett pound his head on the basket before games again.
We get to watch Rajon Rondo throw pinpoint passes and alley-oops to Jeff Green again.
We get to watch Paul Pierce hit step-back jumpers again.
And we get to watch Jason Terry ignite energy in the Garden crowd for the first time.
Most importantly, though, we get to watch the Celtics contend for a championship yet again.
Watching a true team embark on a journey for the NBA's greatest prize is a wonderful thing. Starting Tuesday, we get to witness the Celtics chase that elusive 18th banner for 82 regular-season games and hopefully plenty more playoff games.
And to make it even better, it all kicks off in Miami.
Like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, I, too, find myself so excited I can't hold a thought in my head. But, I don't hope to cross the border, see Andy again or that the Pacific is as blue as it is in my dreams.
I just hope that the Celtics beat the Heat, see the Finals again and that Banner 18 is as sweet as it is in my dreams.
In the words of Freeman, "It's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain."
The final result of the season is uncertain and doesn't even matter now. What matters now is the journey. And we are all excited because, in a sense, we are all free now too. We are free from the offseason; we are free from waiting; and we are hopefully free from more talk of Ray Allen (don't get your hopes up on that one, though).
We get to finally watch the Celtics in real games again. I get to write about real games again, and I can't wait.
The journey for Banner 18 begins again tomorrow night. Now we get to sit back, relax and enjoy the Celtics again.
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