The 2007-08 NBA season was one of redemption for the Boston Celtics and GM Danny Ainge, culminating in their historic seventeenth championship.
The league's best team wire to wire ended the regular season with 66 wins suffocating opposing teams with ballhawking team defense.
Led by Head Coach Doc Rivers, Defensive Player of the Year PF Kevin Garnett,new assistant coach/defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, and an unselfish cast of players both veteran as well as rookies, the Celtics proved yet again that defense wins championships in a dominating 131-92 Game Six win over the offensive-minded Lake Show led by reigning MVP Kobe Bryant.
With the Big Three of Garnett, Finals MVP SF Paul Pierce, and SG Ray Allen back again, can the Celtics become the first team to repeat as champions since the Kobe-Shaq Lakers (2000-2002) earlier in the decade?
KG's impact on the team was immediate. Aside from the 18.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG, he brought a level of intensity the C's were sorely lacking since the Original Big Three.
Chosen to the All-Defensive first team eight times, Garnett anchored the league's second best scoring defense with plenty of help from his frontcourt mates.
Fifth-year C Kendrick Perkins came into his own and became a physical presence in the paint, allowing KG to roam and help teammates while Perk manned down the middle leading the team with 1.46 blocks per game.
Pierce, soon to be team leader in every offensive category in Celtic history, sacrificed his individual statistics for the good of the team. He quickly bought into Rivers philosophy of 'less is more' and had his best all-around season as a pro averaging a team-high 19.6 PPG to go with 4.5 APG.
The Truth turned his attention more to the defensive side in 2007, often going mano e mano with the opposing team's best scorer and more than holding his own.
Another key element of Boston's championship was fueled by the emergence of PG Rajon Rondo. Only in his second season, Rondo sets the tempo for the whole offense. In the game-clincher against the Lakers in the Finals, L.A. coach Phil Jackson gave the young point guard the ultimate respect/compliment, citing him as the 'star of the game' and 'the player we had no answer for'.
It is hard to argue with the Hall of Fame coach after Rondo posted 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, and six steals in the biggest game of his career.
Allen, coming off two ankle surgeries last year, showed he was healthy all season averaging 17.4 PPG and came up big in the Finals hitting a record 22 3PT FG in the process. Jesus Shuttlesworth showed "He Still Got Game" on the biggest stage, saving his best performances for the Eastern Conference Championship against the Detroit Pistons and in the Finals versus the Lakers after initially struggling in the earlier rounds against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks.
The departure of F James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets is one of the biggest questions the C's have to answer this season. He brought an attitude and toughness off the bench that cannot be explained by points, rebounds, blocks or steals. No one in the league is better at taking a charge and often frustrated opponents with his hard-nosed, physical play.
2008 Draft Picks, first rounder G/F J.R. Giddens and second rounder F Bill Walker were two lottery talents who dropped to the Celtics due to character concerns as well as injury concerns, will get long looks at filling the void along with free agent Darius Miles.
Miles, who last played for Portand in 2005-06, is an intriguing pickup by Ainge. Though not as tough and physical as Posey, he has longer arms and is more athletic with a decent mid-range jumpshot.
Forwards Leon Powe and Glen "Big Baby" Davis are back and much improved after making key contributions down the stretch last season. Both are very good position players and use their bodies very effectively to create space to get off a shot or grab a rebound.
Guards Tony Allen, Eddie House, and Sam Cassell were all re-signed to bring a needed veteran presence. 2007 second-round pick combo guard, Gabe Pruitt, could play a bigger role this year after spending his inaugural season watching and practicing against the best the NBA has to offer.
Backup centers Brian Scalabrine and Patrick O' Bryant round out the bench and have good size. O'Bryant, the eighth overall selection of the Golden State Warriors in the 2006 draft, was signed by Ainge to a two-year deal and could provide a post presence down the road.
Rivers answered all of his critics last season, bringing home the first championship to Boston in 22 years and restoring glory to a franchise rich in tradition and prestige.
Adding Thibodeau to his staff was critical, for it was his defensive schemes and philosophies that ultimately led to drastic improvement of the team's defense. From day one, these two and the coaching staff preached to all of the players that it would take tough as nails, unselfish team defense that would lead them to the common goal.
Look for Rivers to push the tempo on offense even more this season with a more confident, more mature core coming back. The key will be keeping the players motivated and not complacent, which tends to happen with veteran players coming off an exhausting championship run.
This will be the biggest challenge for Doc as well as replacing key veterans Posey and PF P.J. Brown (retired), but the pieces are in place for another title run.