What the NHL Can’t Afford

Luxury is a key word in the world of sports. There’s a luxury tax in baseball and basketball, some teams have the luxury of being in a location like New York, or Los Angeles, or Miami that draw in free-agents; then there’s the luxury of popularity.

In America, we also have the luxury of having “The Big Four” – a phrase given to the four most popular sports in the US and Canada, which would be football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

As of 2011, football was the leading sport in both revenue ($11 billion)and in attendance with an average of 65 thousand people trekking to the stadium to take up a voice in the howling crowd, on their feet for every third down and pressure-filled moment. Football has its own network, a film company, and many fanatic fans who tune in every Sunday to watch their team.

Football was even able to withstand the debacle in the Seahawks-Packers game this past season where a game that meant so much was decided by officials who were the backups, the B-team.

Football was able to withstand – because it had the luxury of being popular.

Hockey does not have that luxury.

The National Hockey League makes a little more than a third of the NFL ($3.3 billion) annually and draws a crowd that is under 17,000 people. To put that in perspective – an average NHL audience could fit four crowds from its games into an NFL game.

The sub-par showing of hockey is not to be unexpected – and both hockey’s players and owners have only themselves to blame.

The 2012-13 season was the fourth time in twenty years that hockey has either been postponed, delayed, or – in the case of atrocity in 2004-05 – an entire season has been canceled. And of those four lockouts, three have been in the last 18 years and all have seen Commissioner Gary Bettman preside over them.

Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) have been a large problem in sports for the last few years. The NBA and NFL both locked out their players in 2011 – the NFL for the offseason and the NBA delayed their start to Christmas day.

A salary cap has been one of the largest issues in the CBAs of the past few years and in 2004-05, “The year without the Stanley Cup,” the NHL owners outlasted the players and an exasperated America and finally imposed a cap on their league. With those money issues now aside, the NHL thought it had turned the corner.

They were incorrect.

Revenue sharing and the disparity between how much NHL teams are worth and how much money they make has become a real problem.

Right now the two richest teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs ($1 billion) and the New York Rangers ($750 million), are exponentially more valuable than the bottom-feeders in the hockey-poor markets of St. Louis with the Blues at $130 million and in Phoenix, whose Coyotes are worth a mere $134 million.

Making money is even more of an issue, in fact, according to Forbes – three teams make up 83% of the entire NHL’s income. That’s unbelievable; one-tenth of the league contributes 83% of revenue. Furthermore, according to Forbes, some franchises like the Carolina Hurricanes, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets have trouble even breaking even.

Especially unfortunate for hockey fans is that the NHL was coming of a majorly successful year in which its business was at its peak of all time and the revenue hit a new record for the seventh consecutive year. Then, the lockout happened.

The NHL has to stop doing themselves; they can’t get out of their own way. Every time hockey makes a run at popularity and people begin to notice the men on frozen ice-sheets, a lockout happens; the NHL alienates fans, makes people disinterested and they fail to expand on their previous expansion. The NHL is leaving money on the table.

An idea is that the teams from unappreciative hockey towns in Arizona, North Carolina and Florida should be relocated to the Great White North and to our Canadian neighbors and to the Northwest US; because, if anything is clear, the NHL needs to make more money – which, besides putting the puck past the goaltender, is the main objective.

If anything can be taken from the lockouts that the NHL has had to experience over the last two decades, it cannot be that the owners are evil and selfish or that the players are greedy; it cannot even be that the common fan needs their hockey (although they do).

The thing that can be taken is this: hockey cannot afford to have lockouts – literally. With every day this fall, and the beginning of the winter, that stadiums remained empty, players remained away and owners spent in negotiation in New York they waste days to make money.

And that’s a luxury the National Hockey League does not have.

A Tale of Two Halves: Tom Brady and His Legacy

Is Tom Brady is the best Quarterback ever?

It’s a question that’s been posed many times and a question that has never had an easy answer.

With the 28-13 loss at the hands of the Ravens on Sunday, the Patriots franchise Quarterback may have suffered a blow to his legacy.

The game was very symbolic of Tom Brady’s career; it was a tale of two halves.

The Patriots opened the game against the Ravens on Sunday in an unusual fashion – they were to receive the opening kick. The game began as oddly as the way Brady’s career began: with the New York Jets Mo Lewis. Lewis was the one who knocked out Drew Bledsoe; the Patriots durable, franchise Quarterback in 2001. As Bledsoe went down, Brady went in and never let Bledsoe see the field again.

The Patriots only received the opening kick six out of the seventeen games they played this season before Sunday. Of the six times they received the Opening kick they lost three of those games (Seattle, San Francisco, and Baltimore) and went to overtime with the Jets in which a Gostkowski field goal sealed the 29-26 victory. The Patriots have won the toss 34 straight times since 2008 and elected to defer each and every time.

Brady and the offense struggled in their first possession of the game on Sunday – five plays and a punt – carried over, but on the next time with the ball, the Patriots kicked a field goal and that’s all they needed. The points on the board ignited the offense. Similar to the infamous “Tuck Rule” game early in Brady’s career, the Patriots needed a break – or some sort of momentum – to get a kick start.

The Tuck Rule, before the Brady decision, was an unusual and uncommon rule. Usually, if the Quarterback was bringing the ball forward in a passing motion and it hits the ground, that is ruled an incomplete pass. However, there is a corollary, if the Quarterback changes his mind and starts to tuck the ball into his body and the ball hits the ground, it is still an incomplete pass as opposed to if they had fully tucked the ball and then lost it – which would be a fumble. That rule requires a lot referee delineation.

After the Tuck Rule was utilized in a snowy Foxboro stadium in January of 2002, the Brady-led Patriots beat Jon Gruden’s Raiders en route to their first of three Super Bowl titles in four years. Brady dominated the league in the first half of his career, setting the record for touchdown passes in a season with 50, being the quickest to achieve 100 wins, and leading his team to ten AFC East divisional titles in twelve years.

And on Sunday, It appeared the field goal was all that New England needed as they absolutely dominated the first half. They held the ball 18:12 to 11:48 and ran 45 plays compared to Baltimore’s 27.

But, there was something amiss. They also ended the half with a 13-7 lead that could have been much larger.

It was a situation tinged with unease – the Patriots could have had a more significant lead, but clock mismanagement by Brady, who is normally accredited for his decision-making, held the Patriots to only a field goal. That situation was comparable to the same anti-climactic end of the 2007 season for the Patriots when their 19-0 quest was denied by David Tyree and the New York Giants. In both situations, Patriots fans were left with a feeling that there could have been something more, something greater. A two-possession halftime lead is a lot more comforting than a six-point one. Certainly there was a feeling of something greater during the 2007 season; it is as if a Patriots fan still owns the “16-0 Undefeated Regular Season” gear and gained some moral solace, but really the 16-0 means nothing without the Lombardi.

The offseason between 2007 and 2008 seems to be an appropriate halftime to Brady’s career.

Last Sunday’s second half was nearly the opposite of the first; the Ravens received the opening kick and – on their next drive – scored a touchdown to put themselves ahead 14-13 and ahead for good.

The litany of events that transpired in the second-half were all uncharacteristic for the usually calm and collected Patriots.

There was the holding call on Nate Solder after the Patriots had converted a 3rd-and-2, but failed to convert the 3rd-and-12. There was the unusual drop by Wes Welker where he was wide open on a 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens’ 34 – the Ravens received the punt, scored a touchdown and never trailed again. There were the five trips into the Ravens’ 25-yard line and only scoring on one of those efforts. It seemed as if Bill Belicheck was coaching not-to-lose, rather than win, punting three times in Ravens’ territory on Sunday.

Brady, who had a reputation of being oblivious to pressure and even having the nickname of Captain Comeback, did not play well – for the second year in a row. His reputation preceded him and the Patriots were upset in the playoffs once again.

Maybe it’s not just Brady, but the entire offense, because the top-scoring offense of the Patriots, who scored more than 100 points more than the second closest team, have not had the same production in the postseason. In every playoff loss since the 2007 Super Bowl, the Patriots have not scored more than three touchdowns.

There was the 2009 Wild Card game where they were beaten on the first play of the game by a Ray Rice 80-yard touchdown scamper. Then in 2010, the Patriots overlooked the Jets and then fell 28-21 in the divisional round, which was followed up in 2011 by another loss in which a miraculous catch saved the New York Giants (that time by Mario Manningham) in a 21-17 defeat for the Patriots.

There were some circumstances too, for example, Bernard Pollard continues to injure Patriots players. Pollard ended Brady’s 2008 campaign, tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 1 while with the Chiefs; tearing Wes Welker’s ACL in Week 17 of the 2010 season when Pollard was with the Texans, and spraining Rob Gronkowski’s ankle last year during the AFC Championship game. Last Sunday, Stevan Ridley was the victim of a vicious blow from Pollard that caused a fumble and led to a Baltimore touchdown and 15-point lead.

About 2011 though: Tom Brady did not play well then, either. In fact, Joe Flacco outplayed him – much like Sunday – and it was the Ravens miscues rather than the Patriots successes that led to the Patriots win. In 2011, Brady and Flacco were both 22 for 36 throwing the ball, but Flacco had 70 more yards and two touchdowns to Brady’s none. This prompted Brady to say, “I sucked today, but our defense saved us.” And in 2012, it was more of the same. Flacco outplayed Brady throwing for a better completion percentage, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Brady threw one touchdown and two interceptions (one was in garbage time).

Watching the game was much like watching Tom Brady’s career; a great start, an odd series before halftime, and then a feeling like there should have been something more, something greater, but instead it was Brady not making the plays and the Patriots just couldn’t deliver.

So when Brady takes the field next September at the (in football terms) ancient age of 36 years old, the only question is, what now, and what is Brady’s next performance and can he break out of a second-half slump?

Brady will take the field next season knowing there is still something more, something greater that he can give to New England and that his place in history is not yet cemented. Brady knows that he is one of the greatest Quarterbacks ever, but can he take the sole owner of the title ‘The Greatest?’

Because right now I think no, he is not the greatest of all-time. Certainly he’s up there; certainly he is right on that line, right below number 16, Joe Montana, of the San Francisco 49ers. Montana was the Quarterback who Brady looked up to when he was young.

Here’s why: a player becomes good in the regular season; they accumulate stats, win some games, and draw a crowd. A player becomes great in the postseason, legends are born when the pressure is at its absolute highest and legacies are left with wins when they matter most.

Brady and Montana are comparable in the regular season, but when it comes to biggest game of a player’s career – the Super Bowl – No. 16 has the edge. While Brady and Montana are within 100 passing yards of each other in the Super Bowl, have completion percentages that is decided by one percent, and have astounding touchdown-to-interception ratios (Brady has a 9 to 1 mark and Montana posts a 11 to 0 ratio) in the Big Game, but there is nothing more telling than their records.

Brady is 3-2 in the Super Bowl, including failing to finish off a perfect, 19-0 season while Montana is perfect with a 4-0 record in the Super Bowl.

If – and only if – Brady can get back to the Super Bowl and he can win, then he will be considered the greatest signal-caller of all-time. He will boast six Super Bowl appearances and tie Montana’s record of four wins. Brady needs to be the reason they win, however, he has to show up in order for that to happen – the New England Patriots are built around him. But, as of now things haven’t changed an while Brady looked up to Montana while he was in high school, he is still looking up to him on the ‘Greatest Quarterbacks of All-Time’ chart today.

The Rookie Revolution

Starting Rookie Quarterbacks are rare. It’s even rarer that they succeed. It’s even rarer still that the signal-callers are well-enough transitioned to the NFL pace to help their teams succeed – to the point of the postseason.

Now considered a lock for the Hall of Fame, Peyton Manning started his career in 1998 with the Indianapolis Colts who went a dismal 3-13 that year and finished fifth when they were still in the AFC East. While Manning played adequately, he could not propel his team to any contention for postseason play.

What I’m getting at is that not every starting Rookie Quarterback is successful in their first year, but they could become successful later in their career. However, there are some busts, even at number one overall; most notably JaMarcus Russell out of LSU for the Raiders and the 1999 Browns pick of Tim Couch.

To have one superstar, franchise Quarterback out of the draft and make an impact their Rookie year is unusual, but to have four…it’s unheard of and it’s historic.

The other facet of these Rookies game is mobility. Unlike in years past with Cam Newton, Michael Vick and Pat White, the Quarterbacks of today were runners as a second option. However, they do it well. All four Quarterbacks are more than adept at passing from the pocket, but the group can also scramble and make the indispensable contributions of extending a play and getting into the open field. The big-play possibility is a major addition to their squads.

This year, the Rookies broke the mold. Andrew Luck for the Indianapolis Colts, Robert Griffin III in the nation’s capital for the Redskins, Russell Wilson on the West Coast for the Seahawks, and Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco led the way in this Rookie Revolution. A disclaimer: Kaepernick was drafted in 2011, but threw five passes that year and retained Rookie-eligibility to this year. All four are outplaying former number one picks that received bigger paychecks before they stepped foot on NFL turf. All four were superior to former number one picks who now have more experience in Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions and Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams.

This was true out in Indianapolis.

Andrew Luck broke rookie records with the most yards, mot attempts and tied the record for game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime with seven. This broke the previous rookie record held by Big Ben Roethlisberger (5). He also holds the most “wins” in a season by a rookie QB drafted No. 1 overall. Luck is also more mobile than most give him credit for. He rushed for 255 yards and five touchdowns.

The man drafted directly behind him, RGIII, is not only a football player, but a brand. He is a spokesman for Adidas and for Subway; he boasts colorful socks and is a former Heisman trophy winner. The man is a winner on and off the field; affable and athletic, he is the light that Washington needed to revive football in DC. Washington certainly had high expectations after trading away three future first-rounder’s and a second-rounder to move up to the number two pick to the Rams. The Redskins, who have had four winning seasons since 1992, knew they needed an impact player. Griffin made an impact immediately. He had the third-highest Quarterback Rating in the NFL and was a leader.

Griffin also led all Quarterbacks in rushing with 833 yards, seven touchdowns and could move the chains with 33 first downs. To put those numbers into perspective, he ran for more yards than a third of the starting running-backs in the NFL. He ran for more yards than men who were paid to run – and solely run – for 10 other NFL teams.

However, with his ACL and LCL tear, it will remain to be seen how Griffin responds. The thing is though, is that if Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is any model – Griffin should suffer not set-backs.

The success of these four new Quarterbacks goes beyond any mere statistic and further than numbers.

It goes to the franchises. Before the season began, no one (who has any honesty), was picking the Washington Redskins or Indianapolis Colts to go to the playoffs – much less to have pegged Russell Wilson as the starter for the Seattle Seahawks. What makes Wilson’s promotion to first-string more surprising is that Seattle had just signed free-agent Matt Flynn, the former Packer, to a contract worth $26 million and $10 million guaranteed.

Russell Wilson – a third-round selection – not only captured the starting job, but he was appointed the captain by his teammates. To be a part of a squad with established veterans as Marshawn Lynch and Sidney Rice and to be voted to the captaincy cannot be understated. And he earned it; Wilson’s year was phenomenal. His 100.0 Quarterback Rating (QBR) and 64.1 completion percentage was fourth and eighth respectively in the NFL ahead of names such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in both categories. Wilson also threw fewer interceptions than Peyton Manning – just to show the company Wilson is keeping.

One of those men who outplayed the former number-one picks was a Utah Ute drafted in the second-round and 36th overall.

Though he was drafted in 2011, Colin Kaepernick threw only five passes that season and was still Rookie-eligible this year. When incumbent Starter Alex Smith suffered a concussion against the St. Louis Rams in week 10, the former Utah Ute got the nod. He did not squander that opportunity as Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 5-2-1 record.

Kaepernick’s tremendous arm was not the only positive facet of his game. He can run, a 4.53 40-yard time, and can make big throws. On his debut on Monday night against the Chicago Bears, he made a throw from the left hash towards the opposite side of the field which fell just over the Cornerbacks fingers and into the waiting arms of Kyle Williams, who beat Kelvin Hayden of the Bears for a long touchdown.

Kaepernick also ran for 417 yards and 5 touchdowns in half of the time that Griffin, Wilson, and Luck had.

What makes these Quarterbacks so special? They are poised. They feel no pressure. They know how to win.

What Luck did goes beyond the numbers and the fact that he turned the Colts, 2-14 a season ago, into an 11-5 playoff team is worthy of merit by itself. He led them to the playoffs and though they lost to Baltimore, there is hope in the 23-year old Luck and the young Colts roster.

Griffin made a statement early in Washington and showed he knew how to pull-out a victory. He started his year by defeating an NFC powerhouse in the New Orleans Saints and then took Washington on a season-long ride that concluded with a seven-game win streak, beating the Cowboys and Eagles twice, defeating the reigning NFC Champion Giants and capturing the team’s first NFC East title in 13 years.

Russell Wilson was a winner from day one as he wrested control of the starting job and never relinquished it by playing up to the highest standard. Under the steady and guiding hand of Wilson, the Seahawks had an 11-5 record and made the playoffs for the first time for the first time since 2007. Wilson defeated his Rookie counterpart in RGIII in the Wild Card round of the playoffs and advanced to the Divisional Round to play the Atlanta Falcons.

Down 20-0 at halftime, Wilson brought Seattle all the way back and with under a minute left, the Seahawks had the lead, 28-27, with under a minute to play. Wilson would have had another win and still be playing football if it wasn’t for Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll out-thinking himself and attempting to ice Atlanta’s kicker.

Colin Kaepernick has been just as clutch as Matt Bryant (on the second attempt) throughout the season. His victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football came after his 31-3 lead was erased and a 31-31 impasse came midway through the fourth-quarter. Kaepernick then hit Michael Crabtree for the go-ahead touchdown and the lead, which was a landmark win for San Francisco.

He has also been clutch in the playoffs and has given an arm and legs to propel the 49ers through the playoffs. Kaepernick outplayed veteran and NFL MVP, Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers in a 45-31 drubbing of the favorites to win the NFC. Kaepernick was historic in the game, rushing for 181 (an NFL record for QBs) and two touchdowns, while throwing for 263 yards.

In an unprecedented combination of skill and poise, Kaepernick, Wilson, Griffin and Luck have really led the first Rookie Revolution.

While it’s unclear why four starting Rookie Quarterbacks have stepped into the bright-lights and been unfazed by the game’s biggest stages this year, it will certainly be fun for NFL fans for years to come if they keep the pace they are at now.

While the futures the first-years are unclear, one thing is certain; the Rookie Revolution is here to stay.

The Celtics Bandwagon Now Has One Rider

“They are as bad now as they were during the Antoine Walker years!”

‘They’ were the Boston Celtics, the speaker was my gym teacher and Antoine Walker was the sixth overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft that was the leader for a Celtics team that went 15-67 in that ’97 season. Those 67 defeats under Coach M.L. Carr are a franchise record for losses in a season.

It has become fashionable as of late to make disparaging comments about the Boston Celtics and their playoff chances. “They’re old and they don’t play defense!” many yell.
Cue the Celtics bandwagon – if there even is one – emptying out, leaving only General Manager Danny Ainge. Ainge said, before the Memphis Grizzlies game, “This will be the first game where we have our best lineup that played last year, and that was with [Rajon] Rondo and Avery [Bradley] and Brandon Bass and KG and Paul [Pierce]. That lineup hasn’t even played one minute together this year, so I’d like to give that a shot.”

The Celtics were 14-17 when they took on the Indiana Pacers at home and were in the midst of a four-game slide in which they were outscored by a combined 79 points in losses to the Clippers, Warriors, Grizzlies and lowly Kings.

The Celtics drubbed the Pacers 94-75 and set season bests for field goal percentage allowed and for points allowed. For the Celtics, a team that is last (30th) in the entire NBA with 38.6 Rebounds per game (RPG) to outrebound the 3rd ranked Pacers was impressive and the 19-point win supported Danny Ainge’s mentality of patience.

In the latest ESPN.com power rankings, Marc Stein rated the Celtics just behind the Toronto Raptors. The TORONTO RAPTORS, the team that finished 22-43 just a season ago and a club that is currently without Andrea Bargnani, it’s second leading scorer. To make the slight worse, that Raptors team is – at the moment – two spots behind the Celtics in their own division. All of that and this is the same Boston Celtics that were a consensus top-5 team and seen as the main contender with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

Here are reasons to believe the Boston Celtics will rebound, not only on the glass but in the season, and make the playoffs.

The Celtics are not in unfamiliar territory. In the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12 the Celtics were 15-17 after 32 games, just as this season’s team. The Celtics of 2011-12 came off a five-game losing streak to win five in a row and this year’s squad came off a four-game losing streak and now has won two in a row against tough foes in the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks. In the 2011-12 season, the Celtics finished strong with a 24-10 record down the stretch and made the playoffs. They finished the year 39-27. Veteran leadership of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett along with the youthful legs and artistic assists of Rajon Rondo led them to the fourth seed in the postseason.

Some say that the absence of Ray Allen will affect the Celtics, but if it does, it will be minimal. With the return of 22-year old Avery Bradley – and he will return to form, however, he has been rusty in his three games back – it gives the Celtics that huge defensive upgrade that it desperately needed. Bradley’s return also allows Jason Terry to move to the Sixth Man spot, which is where the C’s signed him to play. Terry can then focus on being a high energy, scoring man off the bench.

Bradley’s defensive prowess is sure to improve the currently 12th ranked Celtics defense when it comes to allowing points per game, and the C’s are allowing 96.7 points currently.

The experiment of Kevin Garnett at Power Forward is finally over and Jason Collins can finally return to the bench. Don’t get me wrong, Collins is a valuable role player, but the load of being a starter seemed to overwhelm at his time there. The numbers tell about Collins as he contributed 1.1 points-per-game (ppg) and 2.0 rebounds-per-game (rpg) while shooting an abysmal 60% from the charity stripe.

Collins in the starting five helped no one, as it shifted Garnett to starting Power Forward where, this season, he made six appearances, averaged 11.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, and 0.5 blocks per game. Also, he shot poorly – only 41.5%. Conversely, Garnett appeared to relish the chance at Center where he is excelling in 26 appearances this season he averages 15.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg and shot an impressive 53.5%.

The sample size is small, but the claim that Garnett belongs at Center is furthered by last season’s examples. In 24 games at starting power forward he averaged 14.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 0.8 blocks. In 36 games at starting center he averaged 16.8 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Though he is a natural Power Forward and has played the position primarily throughout his time in the NBA, Garnett clearly is a more valuable addition to the team at Center and at 36 years old – having played over 46,000 minutes in his career – every bit of production that Boston can get out of him, they should.

How much does Garnett really mean to the Celtics? With KG on the floor the Boston Celtics are allowing a 3rd-best 99.5 points per 100 possessions, but when Garnett heads to the pine, that number balloons to a gaudy 113.5 points per 100 possessions – good for last in the league behind the woeful franchise of the Charlotte Bobcats. Even though he is not a natural Center, clearly, the Celtics need him there.

Another ray of hope for the Boston Celtics is the come-uppance of former Buckeye Jared Sullinger. The C’s selected Sullinger with the 21st pick in last year’s draft and, at only 20 years old, has averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in only 23 minutes a night. If given the starting job, because Brandon Bass has all but played himself out of it, Sullinger could become a 10-10 man every night. It also would allow Garnett to stay at Center and boost Boston’s rebounding production.

That means the Celtics would have Rondo and Bradley in the backcourt and Pierce, Sullinger and Garnett in the frontcourt; to me, that sounds like a fearsome starting five to contend with any team in the West or East.

The Celtics are now on the clock and have 49 games left in the season to turn their year around and this year has a pair of legitimate, contending foes in the revamped Brooklyn Nets and resurgent New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division. Yes, up to this point the Celtics have not been the team they were in the past three or four years, but there are signs and ways of turning it around.

Turning it around is something that the Boston Celtics of today can do, and it is something that the Celtics of the Antoine Walker years could not do. To say that the Celtics are just as bad as they were in 1996 is neither fair nor true. Except for the fact that the Celtics of today have 15 wins and the ’96 C’s had 15 wins, they are not the same team.
Oh, and the Celtics of today have 49 more opportunities to move past that infamous ’96 Celtics team. To put it simply, the Antoine Walker years are not – mercifully – the years of today.