By Chris Le
Few teams have been as active—and improved—in the NBA’s off-season than the much-afflicted Boston Celtics. The acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have Danny Ainge, the Celtics General Manager, and the Boston hopeful, well, hopeful of a future that will make them forget the recent past. Equipped with a three-headed monster of Allen, KG, and Paul Pierce, it’s fairly clear, at least in my eyes, that the Celtics are now among the elite in the East, a conference where one superstar is enough to contend. Boston now has one legitimate All-NBA-er in KG and two solid All-Stars to help carry the load. This three-man team may be enough for the Celtics to win the East, but is it the best trio in the league? Here’s my take:
10. Chicago Bulls’ Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng – Not an All-Star in the group—yet—but collectivity, with their room for growth, offensive potency, and the gritty defense of Hinrich, this young Bulls nucleus can jump up this list dramatically. Their lack of a true game-changer (Gordon is far too streaky, as is Deng) hurts their ranking on this list.
9. New Jersey Nets’ Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson– Jefferson is a solid third option, Carter is still electrifying, and Kidd is, as always, among the best floor generals in the game—but they aren’t getting any younger. Jefferson isn’t as reliable a scorer as the Nets would like, especially when his teammates are having an off night, and VC takes—and misses—too many shots. Granted, Kidd can put up triple doubles as easily as anyone, but he’s got a lot of mileage on his odometer.
8. Washington Wizards’ Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison – This trio can score, as shown in this year’s breakout performance, nearly dropping 20 points a night each (28.4, 19.1, 19.8, respectively). Had it not been for the untimely injuries of Arenas and Butler, the NBA could’ve seen some real fireworks from them in the playoffs. If only they played a modicum of defense.
7. Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry – This trio is a little top heavy, with Terry merely being a nice compliment to what is in fact a very good duo. Howard’s all-around game makes him a match-up nightmare and MVP Dirk alone elevates this group, despite his proclivity to shrink in the clutch.
6. Detroit Pistons’ Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace – This group has proven themselves to be winners. And aside from the top two trios on this list, no other collection of players play as well together. It can be said, however, that Tayshaun Prince is as valuable as any of these three. And it’s true. Each of them brings something vital to the team’s concept. If you’re making a list of the best four-man tandem, the Bad Boys will mostly likely top it.
5. Denver Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby – Not bad when you combine arguably the most dangerous scoring duo in the league with the Defensive Player of the Year. ‘Melo and AI free each other of double-teams, then subsequently run wild, and Camby makes up for their defensive deficiencies. You can mark down ‘Melo and AI for 50 a night and Camby for 3 blocks. That much is a virtual guarantee.
4. Utah Jazz’ Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams, Mehmet Okur – Okur brought the game expected of him, but the 2006-2007 season was a true coming-out party for Boozer and, in particular, Deron Williams. Former Duke Blue Devil, Boozer saw himself elevate his game to All-Star level, with some placing him among the elite power forwards. And Williams was possibly the best point guard in the 2007 playoffs, lofty praise considering the play of Baron Davis, Jason Kidd, and Tony Parker. The future is bright in Utah.
3. Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen – In reality, we honestly don’t know how this group will be. On paper, however, this trio appears to be a match made in heaven. KG finally gets the quality teammates he deserves—not to mention perimeter and clutch-time shooting. Pierce and Allen, with the aid of KG and each other, finally have the post-presence and scoring support they always needed. Sounds exciting and especially potent, but we’ll just have to wait and see if they’re as good on the court as they are on paper.
2. Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash, Amaré Stoudemire, Shawn Marion – A two-time MVP point guard, an All-NBA center, and the “most underrated” player in the league—not too shabby. Nash is playing as well as a point guard can play and is perfectly complimented by one of the league’s most ferocious finishers in Amaré. Everything else is taken care of by The Matrix, whose games is further enhanced—not overshadowed—by his two teammates. These three are probably the most intimidating of the bunch, and would be wearing rings if it were not for…
1. San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili – Other trios may be more athletic, more exciting and possess greater ability to run up the score, but no three-man collection plays the game of basketball as it should be played as well as these Spurs–and they have the hardware to back it up. Parker proved to be unguardable in the playoffs, and Duncan remains the quintessential defensive anchor and still consistently demands double teams on the offensive end, while Ginobili provides the intangible energy that pushes the Spurs into extra gear. They have, collectively, amassed two regular season MVPs, four Finals MVPs, and four NBA Championships. Enough said.