While the role of the center in the NBA has been diminished in recent years, the importance of a presence in the middle has not.
Even if the designated man in the middle is not cut from the traditional cloth, a team still needs to have that anchor down in the low post.
Teams need someone to take up space and intimidate on defense, and, at the very least, be able to put a few points on the board on offense.
On the 2012-13 Boston Celtics, that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of one Kevin Maurice Garnett.
Yes, he's getting on in the age department. Garnett, who entered the league at the age of 19 in 1995, is now a grizzled 36-year-old veteran.
He's logged tons of minutes, played in over 1,300 regular and postseason games and even won a ring.
Now he's looking to guide the Boston Celtics back to the NBA Finals and then raise one more banner to the rafters of the TD Garden in Boston.
The Boston Celtics need Garnett to succeed in his role as the starting center to make that happen.
Without Garnett, the Celtics can still win games. They can even win a playoff series—but a ring?
Not on a team that places such a premium on defense. Not on team that strives to control the pace of the game.
The Celtics are a team that struggled to rebound the ball in 2011-12. They finished dead last in the NBA in rebounds per game as team. However, that team still managed to push the eventual world champion Miami Heat to a winner-take-all Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In fact, the Heat had to come back from a 3-2 deficit to win the series. It is not a coincidence that the Heat's crucial two-game winning streak came when Chris Bosh returned from injury. Bosh, who won't ever be confused for Bill Russell or Shaquille O'Neal, is still a viable scoring threat who just happens to be 6'10".
The Celtics are off to a less than desirable 2-2 start to the 2012-13 season. They appear to be going through the type of growing pains that a team with several new additions could reasonably expect to go through.
That will get worked out over the course of a full, 82-game NBA regular season.
The performance of Kevin Garnett at center will be what guides the team to the Finals or causes them to fall short of that goal.
Rajon Rondo will end the season as one of the league's top assist guys. Avery Bradley will return from injury and be a solid defender. Paul Pierce will score, as will Jeff Green. Jason Terry and Courtney Lee will learn Doc Rivers' system and figure out where they fit in on the court.
None of that will matter if Kevin Garnett can't be a presence in the low post. The backups aren't future stars in the waiting. Jason Collins can't be the starting center on a team that wins the NBA Finals. Fab Melo is far too raw and young. Darko Milicic? Not a chance.
Kevin Garnett isn't the key to a good Celtics season, but he will ultimately determine whether or not the 2012-13 team collects championship rings, or just collects some wins.
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