Philadelphia 76ers fans like myself thought the Boston Celtics would take a step back after last year's playoffs. However, the Celtics proved us and most everyone else wrong by keeping every one of their old stars - with the exception of Ray Allen. Yet having Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo should keep the Celtics afloat, even though a new Boston player may make the real difference.
Not having Allen won't hurt too much if new Celtic Jason Terry can fill the gap. Although Allen is now the latest superstar on the Miami Heat, the Celtics can cancel that out if Terry forges a new 'Big Four' with Garnett, Rondo and Pierce. Not only might it keep them ahead of my Sixers in the Atlantic, it may keep them within range of the Heat everywhere else.
The Celtics know what they'll get from their three returning stars already. While they are yet another year older now, age didn't stop Boston from nearly making the NBA Finals last season. If age hasn't stopped Garnett and Pierce yet, it's hard to imagine it starting now.
Assuming Garnett, Pierce and Rondo all stay healthy and productive, that leaves Allen's absence as the last major internal obstacle to overcome. Although Terry will mostly come off the bench, his pedigree and experience will make him the closest thing to the new Allen.
It helps that Terry already has a ring with the Dallas Mavericks - and that he beat the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals to get it. Technically, he has as many championships as Allen won in Boston, so he is hardly a novice in May and June. In that regard, he will fit right in with the Celtics.
After winning it all in 2011, the Mavericks took a step back and allowed Terry to walk. He got to the mountaintop only to tumble back down just 12 months later, so that should make him rather eager to climb back up. Pairing him up with an even hungrier Celtics core should make for a winning combination - on paper anyway.
Replacing Allen will still be a chore, however. Although he may not have been as dangerous as he once was, he remained the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history. He could still deliver a big shot every once in a while, which isn't something that can be easily replaced. But if Terry can come close and make it like Allen was never gone, then the Celtics will be in a real position to threaten the Heat again.
The Celtics will benefit a lot this season from having three of their old Big Four still around. It should at least keep Atlantic Division clubs like the Sixers, Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks looking up at Boston for a while longer.
But if Terry gives the Celtics a new and improved Big Four, then they will have a real chance to upset the new Big Four in Miami. Yet if Terry can't come through and makes Boston miss Allen even more instead, it could make all the difference in the race for the Eastern Conference title - and maybe the race for the NBA crown.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has gotten quite familiar with the Celtics in that time.
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