Friday, September 28, 2007 Updated: October 10, 2:31 PM ET
New-look Celtics aren't (just) 'The Big Three'
By John Hollinger ESPN Insider
WALTHAM, Mass. -- First things first: Let's get this nickname thing straightened out.
Call Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen what you will, but don't call them "The Big Three."
"Honestly, I don't like that," Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers said at the team's media day on Friday. "Because [Kevin] McHale, [Robert] Parish and [Larry] Bird were 'The Big Three.' So come up with another one."
Point taken. Celtics fans will have to create a different moniker for Boston's All-Star trio -- negotiations for use of "The Triplets" are underway in Irving, Texas, as we speak -- and quick. Because with excitement for the coming season at a fever pitch, these three players are going to be a major story all season.
The Nicknameless Three are all smiles so far.
And truly, it's a trio of equals -- one that intends to share the credit equally. They took the podium together, and each tiptoed carefully around the "Who gets the rock at the end of the game?" questions while effusing over the prospect of playing with each other.
Garnett, the most intense of the three, also seemed the most excited about the change of scenery after his offseason liberation from Minnesota. He noted that the best part about coming to Boston was "these two guys beside me" and said seeing the Celtics' championship banners immediately got him excited.
"It's the first thing that catches your eye when you come in here," he said, and though they hang at the practice facility in an outlying suburb, they're the originals, right down to the multiple stains on the '68 banner.
As for the last shot question, that will linger until the real games start. But Rivers, the man assigned the task of getting the three All-Stars their touches, thinks the roles will work themselves out.
"Kevin will be the easiest to fit in because of the way he plays, from the elbow and the post, and because he's such a great passer," Rivers said. "Paul and Ray will be [the harder] part of working to make it fit. But clearly they're a 2 and a 3, so there's a separation."
Rivers also pointed out that no matter who he calls a play for in the endgame, he's guaranteed to get single coverage because of the threat of the other two on the floor, a luxury he hasn't had the past couple of years with a Pierce-centric offense.
However, maybe our focus on Boston's Nicknameless Three is too narrow. Because while those three were getting settled into Beantown this summer, they came to an important realization: They weren't getting to the Finals by themselves.
"It's not just the three of us that are going to make this thing work," Allen said. "There's more to the team than the three of us sitting here."
How those three impact the other nine players on the roster will go a long way toward determining how far the Celtics go. The production of players like Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins -- Boston's other two projected starters -- are a big part of their equation, especially after the trades for Allen and Garnett denuded the roster of most of its productive role players.
Each has been in town for several weeks working out with the rest of the squad, attempting to set an example and impart their wisdom on the team's youngsters. And Allen has taken his own words to heart, serving as Rondo's shooting coach and mentor. It was a mutual decision: On his own, Rondo started coming to the gym at 7:30 every morning in order to catch up with Allen and get shooting pointers, because he knew Allen was in the gym by 8. In turn, Allen started coming in at 7:30 to line up his workouts with Rondo's.
"He's a smart kid," Allen said. "He wants to be good and he's been asking questions about his shot. He's out here working on his game to no end."
Because of that, Boston doesn't seem as concerned about its point guard slot as others are.
"In the second half of last year [Rondo] just kept improving," Rivers said. "I've read and heard all the talk about, 'Is he ready?' He has an opportunity to show everyone that he is."
Perkins looked ready too. He said he'd lost 15 pounds and was down to 268, his lightest weight in two years, and that the foot pain that bothered him all last season was no longer a factor (but don't worry: he'll still be wearing those layers of thick socks). Perkins also noted that Garnett's defensive skill will take some of the load off him, because the Celtics will be less likely to have defined matchups and will instead allow the first big man back to take the first opposing big across half-court.
Should Perkins and Rondo deliver, the offseason trades for Allen and Garnett would appear to have Boston positioned for a title run. But a lot of water can leak into the Big Dig between now and then, with six months of regular season looming.
The grind starts tomorrow, as the Celtics set up shop in Rome for training camp before playing preseason games in Rome and London. Rivers expressed some concern about the impact of the schedule on his practices. He's heard horror stories from other coaches about overseas trips and the impact on preparation, including one team that spent 90 minutes in traffic just to reach its practice facility.
The glass-half-full approach, however, is that this isn't such a bad time for Boston to be going overseas. With so many new players needing to be integrated, some time together on the road might help cement the chemistry faster.
"It's great for this group of guys because it's a forced bonding trip," Rivers said.
Meanwhile, for local fans the hard part may be the waiting, and I don't just mean for the team to return from Europe. Let's face it: What the team does between now and May is almost totally irrelevant. They'll be judged by what they do in the postseason, and the events leading up to that are secondary.
Thus, we won't know for a long time whether the uniting of Garnett, Allen and Pierce pays off with its stated goal of winning a title, or at the very least the conference. But by any name, the three All-Stars have the Celtics angling for a rare worst-to-first turnaround in the Eastern Conference -- one, it should be noted, that would vastly upgrade the historical legacy of all three.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.