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News » Is the window closing for this year's top teams? 2008-05-28

Is the window closing for this year's top teams? 2008-05-28

Is the window closing for this year's top teams? 2008-05-28
As we march toward the NBA Finals, the league's keen observers have erected a metaphorical window of title-winning opportunity. Evidently, it's closing for three of the four remaining teams.

This pits the San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics — teams that have inspired now-or-never championship declarations — opposite the Los Angeles Lakers, who seem poised for another marathon run. Before admiring the Lakers' youthful roster and ability to get away with biting on last-second pump fakes, let's take a look at the allegedly mitigated futures of the NBA's other Final Four teams.

We'll begin in Boston, where the Celtics — based on the shaky long-term employment of their personnel guy — decided the future should be right now. With that in mind, the C's made the trades necessary to create "The Big Three'' and set up the franchise with $74.8 million in committed salaries for the 2008-2009 season.

Boston will be picking last in the first round of this year's draft, and — thanks to that trade for Kevin Garnett — coughed up a lottery-protected (probably not applicable) 2009 No. 1 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. By the way, the Celtics have $62.6 million on the books for 2009-10, so adding legitimate help during the next two offseasons should be tricky.

(Please note that while this summer's free agent list could be impressive, most of the notable names only have opt-out clauses and probably won't risk receiving less money in a new deal. The biggest unrestricted name is Antawn Jamison, who doesn't figure to take a relative pittance to play with one of the teams reviewed in this piece.)

2008 NBA playoffs

Friday's game

  • Celtics close out Pistons in Game 6

Thursday's game

  • Lakers eliminate Spurs, win West


  • Rosen: Celts are championship-caliber
  • Kriegel: Don't forget to credit Kupchak
  • Hench: Postseason full of flops
  • Whitlock: Fewer tattoos, more viewers
  • Hill: Is window closing on top teams?
  • NBA Finals central: Celtics-Lakers
  • Western Conference playoff central
  • Eastern Conference playoff central
  • Complete NBA playoff coverage


  • Best shots from the conference finals


  • Johnson: How West was won
  • Lakers heading to NBA Finals
  • Spurs' reign comes to an end

How vulnerable will the Celtics be? Well, that depends on how well the Cavaliers and Magic, respectively, upgrade the personnel surrounding budding superstars LeBron James and Dwight Howard.

We also should keep an eye on the Chicago Bulls, who reportedly will add potential point-guard monster Derrick Rose with the first overall pick. It'll be interesting to see how far the Bulls can run without addressing their grotesque lack of inside scoring.

Unless these teams make appreciable strides in the summer, the C's may be able to linger as candidates to escape the Eastern Conference a year from now.

Garnett is 32, but the mileage abuse from a career that began immediately after high school may be salved by his terrific conditioning. That's good, because Boston is on the hook for $80 million over the next four seasons. Ray Allen is almost 33, but has been playing like 43 and is owed $36 million over the next two years. Paul Pierce checks in at 30, but has slipped considerably in terms of quickness and up-and-down speed. He's on the payroll for about $60 million over the next three seasons.

Point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins are mere puppies with the capacity to improve considerably; if they do, the Big Three's burden will lessen and the C's may have enough for one more run. Role-playing upgrades should be assumed by Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis.

Things aren't as cap nasty in Detroit, where Pistons talent boss Joe Dumars has done a lovely job of coughing up reasonable salaries and preventing multiple starters from arriving at free agency in the same year.

Rasheed Wallace (33) has one more year on his existing deal, with Rip Hamilton (30 and in great condition) coming due in 2010. Tayshaun Prince (28) is up in 2011, and Chauncey Billups (31) checks in the following year.

Dumars has also integrated a couple of young hotshots into the existing mix, adding Jason Maxiell to the front-line rotation, with rookie Rodney Stuckey stepping into a key role as a combo guard. Stuckey is seen as a possible replacement or apprentice for Billups, but must improve his handling-passing skills to make an offense click.

The Pistons also retain big hopes for 6-foot-9 Amir Johnson, a 21-year-old who went right from high school to the Detroit bench. Johnson, who has two more years remaining on a modest contract, could take the minutes ultimately surrendered by veteran Antonio McDyess. He played in eight games this season.

Dumars deserves notice for keeping the Pistons' payroll at a reasonable and committed $53.8 million for next season; too bad he drafted Darko Milicic when Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were available in 2003. The Pistons (especially if Bosh had been the choice) would have had a young star on the books and probably wouldn't have needed to trade for Wallace a few months later.


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Added: May 29, 2008


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