Finally, after months of waiting and hand-wringing, the 2011-2012 NBA season is upon us.
Free agency and training camps begin tomorrow and the Boston Celtics, who will kick off the year with a high noon showdown with the New York Knicks on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, are right at the forefront of of the league's rumor mill.
So, given the team's much-discussed pursuit of New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul—as well as all of the other moves it must make just to fill out the roster—the following thoughts come with a disclaimer: Everything is subject to change depending on who does what, who gets traded where and who signs whom.
So, let's approach this exercise under the assumption that the C's main core (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo) are all still wearing green and white come Christmas time. And away we go.
Will Jeff Green even be around to guard Carmelo Anthony by Christmas?
About the only thing we know for sure about this rematch of last year's Eastern Conference first-round playoff matchup is that the game will be sloppy at best. Two weeks of training camp and two exhibition games will ensure that.
But beyond that, the possibilities are fascinating.
Both teams have figured heavily into the Paul rumors, and even if neither of them wind up with the All-Star out of Wake Forest, this one still has the makings of a great way to kick off the season. Will the Knicks be extra fired up given their loss in that playoff series? Will they bother to play any defense?
We know the Celtics will, regardless of who's running the point.
And Boston has certainly had New York's number of late, too, beating the Knicks 11 out of the last 12 times they've met over the past two years. Look for that pattern to continue on Opening Day.
This scene from last year's playoffs may well be recaptured in the second game of the C's season.
These two teams hate each other and that mutual distaste goes back further than last year's Eastern Conference Semifinal series that went to the Heat in five games.
While Miami got practically nothing in that series from anyone not named Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh, the Celtics were cooked by the time last May came along. Even though they played hard and looked primed to win more than just the one game they took in the series, there wasn't enough gas left in the collective tank.
If Paul is a Celtic for this one, it could change the complexion somewhat. However, the Heat, playing their home opener against a much-hated rival, will still likely be a little too much for the Celtics to handle, even at this early juncture of the schedule.
David West, New Orleans's next best player after Chris Paul, is also rumored to be on the move.
A real tough one, and that's without even factoring in the potential/possibility of Paul facing his former team for the first time.
It will be the first of 19 back-to-back situations for the Celtics, and while when those come up in the latter stages of the season slate (there's even a back-to-back-to-back in mid-April), it will likely be a lot more challenging given all the old bones on the roster, hanging in there one night after what has the makings of an epic (at least as far as regular-season games go) the night before in South Beach may be a little too tough.
Or, maybe New Orleans will be running the likes of Stephen Curry or Eric Gordon, or perhaps Rondo is out there at the Celtics as its new franchise centerpiece. Either way, the fact that this one comes so early in the season gives the Celtics the advantage.
Marquis Daniels' impending return to Boston likely won't matter much against a sad sack outfit like the Pistons.
The home opener for the Celtics stands to be a party, given the also-ran status of the Pistons. Detroit hired Celtics coach Doc Rivers' top assistant, Lawrence Frank, to take over its floundering franchise, which means that at the very least the Pistons will be more committed to defense—at least in the early going.
But beyond that, with all the aging or overpaid (or both) flotsam floating around the Detroit roster (Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton, Charlie Villanueva, etc.), the Pistons look to be on the verge of another season near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Kevin Garnett has always loved yapping at Wizards center/knucklehead Andray Blatche.
The Wizards are expected to use the new collective bargaining agreement's amnesty clause to rid themselves of forward Rashard Lewis' massive contract. This move will give them some room to go out and find more talent with which to surround last year's No. 1 overall pick/star-in-the making John Wall.
In addition to Wall, Washington has some other nice pieces, including Andray Blatche, big-man JaVale McGee and shooting guard Nick Young. Under the right circumstances, they could steal this one, especially given that they'll be playing at home.
But it's unlikely.
Yep, the Wiz again, as the Celtics' second back-to-back of the season is a home-and-home with the denizens of our nation's capital. The results of this one—again, despite the Celtics status as borderline-AARP eligible—shouldn't be much different than that of the night before.
Deron Williams is by far the Nets best player, even better than Kris Kardashian over there on the left.
The Nets are gearing up to say farewell to the swamps of New Jersey en route to their shiny new home in Brooklyn.
They're also likely going to have to say "so long" to Deron Williams after this year, too, despite trading for him last season and trying to pull out all the stops to build around him in an attempt to get him to sign a long-term deal that coincides with the move. It's probably not going to happen, regardless of the Nets being owned by a Russian gazillionaire.
So, with that in mind, will Williams, in a contract year, be even better than he already is (and believe us, he's really, really good)? Probably. But will it matter on the road against a superior team in the first two weeks of the season? Probably not.
The Pacers can hang with the big boys, as evidenced by their impressive showing against the top-seeded Bulls in last year's playoffs.
Indiana is sneaky good. It gave top-seeded Chicago all it could handle in their first-round playoff matchup last spring, have wildly talented young players at every position (Darren Collison at point guard, Danny Granger and Paul George at forward, Roy Hibbert down low) and brought in another solid young guard who has boatloads of experience in a top-level organization in George Hill, the former Spur.
The Pacers could win this game, especially if the old Celtics, who will be smack in the middle of a five-game homestand when this one rolls around, are starting to feel the effects of the compressed, condensed schedule (this will be their eighth game in 12 days). Don't be shocked at a mini-upset here.
Dallas is still really, really good and always creates matchup nightmares for Boston. And even though several key members of last year's champs (Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, Roddy Beaubois, Peja Stojakovic) are likely gone, Dallas will invade the TD Garden still sporting its best—Dirk Nowitzki—and its second best—Jason Terry.
The Lakers will probably pose the biggest threat out west this season, but the Mavs are still as good as anyone and know how to win. And they will win this game against the Celts, too.
Carlos Boozer, one of the Bulls prime acquisitions last year, isn't as good as what he's making might suggest.
Probably the most interesting of the Celtics' first 10 games given the similarities of the two teams and the fact that by this point everyone will be into their normal grooves/routines.
The Bulls have been mostly looked over when discussing all the possible moves teams and players might make when able to tomorrow. They have the best player between these two teams in Derrick Rose and they still have defensive-demon/pest-extraordinaire Joakim Noah.
But after that, there are question marks, starting with both Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. Look, this team is very good, maybe even great. The Bulls weren't the No.1 seed in the Eastern Conference last year for nothing. However, something seems off with them, especially after their loss to the Heat in the Eastern Finals, a series in which they had home court.
It will be a little while before we know if the Bulls are ready to take the next step.
They won't look it when they play the Celtics on Friday the 13th.