‘Urgency’ the Key Word for Celtics As Championship Window Gets Tighter


'Urgency' the Key Word for Celtics As Championship Window Gets Tighter When the Celtics kicked off training camp last September, gearing up for another season with an aging core group of players, questions abounded about whether it would be Boston's last stand.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge had assembled a nucleus with a narrow window of opportunity to win championships in the NBA. The message was clear: Win now, or regret it later.

As it turns out, the Celtics' chances to win it all didn't die last June on the Staples Center floor. They're keeping the band together for another tour — and chances are they're looking at two years to win, not one.

Kevin Garnett has two seasons left on his contract. So, too, does Doc Rivers. So it's no coincidence that Ainge went out this summer and signed Ray Allen, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Nate Robinson all to matching deals that expire in the summer of 2012.

Here's the new message: These next two seasons mean everything.

"We'll enjoy the two seasons while we have them," Ainge said Thursday. "We'll take them one season at a time, but right now, we're trying to do everything we can to win a championship now. Our focus is just this year. We'll worry about the following year next summer."

Shaq is the oldest player in the league now at 38; the other O'Neal will soon turn 32. Paul Pierce is turning 33, Garnett is 34 and Allen is 35 years old. As long as this group is leading the way, the pressure will always be there to win as soon as possible. Whether their contracts expire next summer or next decade is besides the point to many of these Celtics.

"I don't know if it's added pressure," Ainge said of the two-year deals he doled out this summer. "Those guys know where they are in their careers and they know their window is short. So they all know what opportunity lies ahead. There's not a lot left for them."

The key word now is "urgency," which is something the Celtics lacked for much of last season until they miraculously flipped a switch in April with the playoffs on the horizon. Rivers will have to work with his players from the first day of camp to keep them focused on the ultimate goal. No more "turning it on for the playoffs" — the urgency has to be there all along.

"I don't know if we have that yet, but we have to have it," Rivers said. "We have to be realistic — it's not like we have a four- or five-year window that we can play with. I think our entire team should think each year that this may be their last shot and have a sense of urgency. But listen: If you're young, if you're Miami or Orlando, they have to have a sense of urgency, too. You can never take a year for granted."

The competition will be grueling all year long. And strolling through the season lackadaisically could lead to disaster — getting a high playoff seed would be a huge boost in a series against the Heat or Magic where one final home game could make all the difference.

Maybe the Celtics' best strategy would be to play like carefree 26-year-olds. They've certainly got the talent in-house to do that.

"I don't know who puts time frames on windows, and things like that," said Nate Robinson. "But these guys know how to play the game of basketball. I know time catches up with you, but for our guys, they just love the game, regardless of how old they are or how young they are. They love the game of basketball, and they know how to play basketball. That's what you need."

That's the bottom line. The Celtics are returning to action next week, and they can't wait to get out there.

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