A game of one upmanship

Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce celebrate their 2008 NBA championship.

 

Celtics fans really have no one but their own team to blame for the ongoing sculpting of super teams.

After all, it was Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge’s decision to put together the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen that not only yielded the Celtics’ first championship since the banner years of the Original Big Three, but also prompted every other thisclose contender to take note.

Two months after the Celtics made their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years, the Miami Heat decided it was time to put their own spin on the Big Three concept. Granted, the Heat went about it with far more fanfare, with LeBron James’ “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach, bringing free agent forward Chris Bosh along for the ride. The ridiculous “press conference” at which James and Bosh were introduced with Heat veteran Dwyane Wade was a farce, not to mention an assault to the senses.

After getting off to a rocky start to the season, however, the Heat have hit their stride and are now the hottest team in the NBA, breathing down the Celtics’ neck in the race for the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Whether the New Big Three has enough complementary parts around them to win a title remains to be seen, but they are playing very well of late.

So you knew it would only be a matter of time before another team in the copycat NBA decided to take the same approach. Granted, the New York Knicks are still only two-thirds of the way there, having acquired forward Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets late Monday night to go with forward Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks’ free-agent prize last off-season. But one wonders when the next shoe will drop.

The Knicks gave up a lot to get Anthony — two pretty good forwards in Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, plus guard Raymond Felton, center Timofey Mozgov, a future first-round draft pick, two future second-round draft picks, cash, and future draft considerations. They did get guard Chauncey Billups in return, but he’s nowhere near the player he was even three years ago. Oh, and then there is the minor detail of signing Anthony to a three-year, $65 million extension.

The Knicks clearly felt they had to make a big splash after losing out on the free-agent bonanza last summer (although Stoudemire has been outstanding this season). But as currently constituted, the Knicks don’t throw much of a scare into either the Celtics or Heat. Yes they’re  a better team than they were two days ago, but something’s missing.

Rumors continue to circulate that the Knicks aren’t done dealing as Thursday’s trade deadline looms. But the real third piece may not come until 2012, when top-notch guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul, plus center Dwight Howard, hit the free-agent market. Until then, the Knicks may find enough pieces to remain a factor in the East, but keep their eye firmly on the future.

The Celtics. aging and battling a rash of injuries, are content to scratch their way through the regular season, knowing they don’t have to worry about tough back-to-back games and difficult travel schedules when the playoffs roll around. The Heat, younger and far more explosive, are eager to prove they belong in the championship talk.

The Knicks, however, are going to need a bit more time and talent to enter the conversation.

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