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Weekly Countdown: The changing nature of the NBA Finals

BOSTON -- The past provides perspective to the present, he alleged alliteratively ...

5. Parade planning is done in advance. To hasten the renaissance of the Celtics last fall, Boston coach Doc Rivers went creative. On the day before the team's departure to Rome for preseason training camp in Europe, Rivers arranged for his new threesome of stars -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- to go on a surprise amphibious Duck Tour of Boston with him.

"I told them to meet me at my apartment, and then I had the Duck Boat pull up,'' Rivers said. "I had them do the exact [championship] parade routes of the Red Sox and the Patriots -- we went into the water, the whole thing. That was the time we talked about what it was going to take, about giving yourself up for the team and all of that.''

While the four of them rode the old streets and the Charles River while hearing a tour guide describe the rides of the Red Sox, Patriots and Paul Revere, Rivers encouraged a discussion of how the three must learn to play to a new style if they wanted to fulfill their vision of a parade in June. Rivers knew it wasn't going to be easy.

"I had to sell it to them, because I had to get them to give up some of the things they've always done,'' Rivers said. "And I knew I would hear, 'What I've always done is this. ... This is how I've done it ...' "

The virtual preseason parade served its purpose. When the Celtics beat Detroit to earn their first trip to the NBA Finals in 21 years, they recalled how the Duck Tour had persuaded them to see the big picture.

"We knew what our goals were, what we were pushing for and what we were trying to accomplish,'' Allen said."Throughout the season, I would say, 'Kevin, remember when we rode the Duck, why we rode the Duck.' We had that feeling of what we want to be.''

4. The players have little concern for the long dormant Boston-L.A. rivalry. I would argue that Kobe Bryant and Pierce are the only players who are plugged into the history of this series, because each has played for his franchise long enough to be held accountable to its winning traditions. Point guard Derek Fisher may intuit the larger meaning because of his previous association with the Lakers, but the other players, including Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Garnett and Allen, have not been with their clubs long enough to be "true'' Lakers or Celtics.

When Boston point guard Rajon Rondo was asked about the history of the rivalry, he pointed out that he was born in 1986, two years after the Celtics' last Finals victory over the Lakers. He had trouble remembering that it was Kurt Rambis who was laid out in the famous collision with Kevin McHale during the '84 series.

3. The expensive seats are more expensive than ever ... but not everything has changed. The minimum price for a last-minute ticket to Games 1 or 2 in Boston is about the same as it was for the Celtics-Lakers Finals of the '80s.

"Right now, we're getting $450 to $475 for the worst row in the balcony,'' said John Higgins of Higs Cityside Tickets, a ticket broker in Boston. "My partner was in the business in the '80s and he says it cost close to $500 to get in anywhere in the building back then. Of course, that was the old Garden, so you might have been paying $500 to sit behind a pole or some AC vent.''

But the upper-end seats are more expensive. "We sold two courtside seats for $35,000 to a company in Manhattan that deals with Hollywood,'' Higgins said. "I'm dying to see who's there. They said it's for a woman, which makes me think it might be Dyan Cannon. That's the first thing I'm going to look for when I go there [for Game 1].''

During Game 1, I texted Higgins to find out the identity of the buyer. He neither knew nor cared. "No idea ... 35k though,'' he texted back.

2. The rings are gaudier. During these playoffs, Celtics sixth man James Posey has been wearing the 2005-06 championship ring he won with the Heat. "Just to let my everybody see what it's all about,'' he said after a game in Cleveland last month. He took it off and dropped it in my hand. It weighed like a small ingot.

The rings have grown larger, more expensive and less comfortable over the years. Rick Weitzman, a guard on the 1967-68 Celtics championship team, still wears the title ring he received from Red Auerbach. Weitzman later became a scout for the Celtics and other teams, and last week during the NBA predraft camp in Orlando, he took off his ring to show it to another former Celtic, M.L. Carr. It was no bigger than a high school graduation ring.

"A ring like that, what it stands for is more important than what it actually is made of,'' Weitzman was telling me Thursday. "It's still heavy enough that when I do shooting lectures, I have to take it off.''

Carr inspected the ring and asked Weitzman, "What happened to it?'' He held it up to expose the hole where the center diamond was supposed to be. Weitzman said he had noticed it missing at his hotel in Orlando. "My wife and I were frantically looking through the room,'' he said. They found it on the bathroom vanity, near the sink.

Weitzman explained that the Celtics used to award rings for the first championship won by a player. "Bill Russell didn't have 11 rings,'' he said. "Red would give you the first ring, but if you won it the next year, you didn't get another ring.''

This was news to Carr. His eyes lit up subtly as he cupped the ring like a gambler holding a pair of dice. "How much for the ring?'' he said. "Would you sell it?''

"How much are you offering?'' Weitzman said.

"How about $3,000,'' he said, with a half-smile.

"Maybe if you were offering me 10 times as much we would have something to talk about,'' Weitzman said, extending his hand to take back the ring.

On Thursday, he told me, "The bottom line is that I wouldn't sell it for anything.''

1. There are more TV channels. News is delivered by a variety of means since the last Celtics-Lakers Finals. "I knew I had arrived at the beginning of the season when I was watching an episode of Nip/Tuck, Allen said of the FX series. "One of the characters on the show had amnesia, or they thought he had amnesia. And he said, 'No, I remember everything. I even know that the Celtics are back.' This was in November, and I remember winding back that part of the show to hear it again.''

Allen used that anecdote to demonstrate how he felt about helping to reincarnate the league's greatest rivalry. "So it does mean a lot to be a part of this here,'' he said. "We talk about winning, and when you win, you want to win somewhere in a major market, a big city where if you win, it's going to be a big thing for the rest of your life. It's always going to be something that's going to be special to the people, and you're always going to be remembered.''

And that, ultimately, is why this series seems to be so much more important than so many others of recent years. The winner will be worth remembering.

4. I think when it's all said and done, Kobe Bryant will go down as the greatest of all time. The Lakers are going to be a dynasty the next five years. You have Kobe in his prime, Pau Gasol in his prime and Lamar Odom in his prime, and you have the young guys Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmer and Sasha Vujacic who keep getting better.-- Harut Arzumanyan, Los Angeles

The Lakers were almost imploding less than a year ago, and look how quickly their prospects have changed ... so keep that in mind when assessing their impending dynasty. But when you consider the uncertainty of several contenders in the Western Conference, the frontier is open for the Lakers to seize.

3. How long do you see Kobe Bryant playing?-- Ernie, Iowa

I looked into this earlier this season. Bryant is only 29, but this is his 12th season after entering the NBA straight out of high school. The elite small forwards and shooting guards of previous generations were 32 to 34 when they had played as many minutes as Bryant.

My guess is that Bryant will play well into his mid-30s so long as he believes he can win championships. He has proved to be focused and conditioned to the highest levels, and his shooting will keep him relevant as he ages.

2. How can you use Eddy Curry as an example of someone doing poorly because of the pressure of playing in his hometown? If anything, Eddy got a free pass in Chicago because it was home; people pretended he was good because they want him to be good. His warts are now magnified in New York, where the fans are much more demanding. He didn't star in Chicago because he isn't one. He will always like food better than basketball.-- Kenneth Liu, Chicago

The difficulty for some young players in their hometown comes from having to support so many friends. He faced more demands from people who grew up with him than he would have faced in a new city. It was another distraction he didn't need.

1. With the return of Don Nelson and the high expectation of making the playoffs, what are the Warriors looking to do this offseason? Most of the team is falling to free agency and the draft looms ahead. Any trade to move up or bring in another veteran?-- Kevin, Oakland, Calif.

Figuring that Baron Davis won't opt out of his $17.8 million salary next season, and that the Warriors will make good on their promise to match any offers to restricted free agents Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins, they'll go into next season with that core along with Stephen Jackson,Al Harrington and second-year players Brandan Wright and Marco Belinelli. Their needs are complementary: a big man to provide the rebounding they don't get from Harrington, a backup point guard to reduce Davis' minutes from the 39.0 he played without missing a game this season, and some backup role players to extend their rotation and allow them to play full-court all season long.

The Warriors may yet re-sign Matt Barnes, Austin Croshere and either Kelenna Azubuike or Mickael Pietrus. They also have a $9.9 million trade exception (dating back to their trade of Jason Richardson to Charlotte a year ago) that could enable them to move their No. 14 pick in the draft outright for a player who makes less than $10 million. That exception expires June 30, but it's unlikely the Warriors will use the bulk of it. The reason they traded Richardson was to create budget room to retain Ellis and Biedrins this summer.

In any case, the Warriors will be looking to return to the playoffs in an aging conference that may not be quite so intimidating next year. They'll also be counting on another strong year for Davis as he plays for a new contract.

3. The Spurs. The window isn't closing. Tim Duncan is 32, Manu Ginobili is 30 and Tony Parker is 26. They can elevate 28-year-old Matt Bonner's role as a replacement for Robert Horry, and 21-year-old D-League star Ian Mahinmi, an athletic, 6-10 forward, may be rushed to the front line, especially now that it appears 2007 first-round pick Tiago Splitter won't be leaving Europe to join the Spurs next year.

The Spurs can grow younger simply by replacing free agents Horry, Michael Finley, Kurt Thomas and Damon Stoudamire. Fabricio Oberto and Jacque Vaughn are tradable, and 36-year-old Bruce Bowen has at least another year in his legs. The Spurs will be active this summer, but they shouldn't need an overhaul to remain in contention.

2. The Cavaliers. The more we hear about the Nets and the Knicks gearing up to make a free-agent run at LeBron James in 2010, the more likely it becomes that the Cavaliers will package their $30 million in expiring contracts with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and/or Anderson Varejao -- their most tradable assets -- to pair James with an All-Star and renew his hope of winning a Finals in Cleveland. They also need a big-time point guard to allow James to play off the ball; as well as Delonte West played in the postseason, he remains a No. 3 guard on a great team rather than a starting point guard on a championship contender.

1. The Pistons.Joe Dumars' remarkable promise to break up a team with six consecutive conference finals appearances --"This team became way too content and did not show up with a sense of urgency,'' he said -- doesn't mean he'll blow up the whole roster and start over. In an odd way, it does suggest that he'll be looking to add aggressive talent -- similar to the qualities of his bench players rather than his starters, who look all played out. Dumars will be seeking the kind of energy and toughness the Pistons received from Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell -- as well as 6-9 Amir Johnson and 6-5 rookie Arron Afflalo, who rarely played in postseason but might have been able to help against the Celtics.

If the Pistons hire Michael Curry as coach, they'll be getting an excellent basketball mind who also commands respect. He will confront players who go astray, and he'll have the full backing of Dumars. It would be no surprise if the Pistons headed by Curry and a couple of new starters are back in contention in the East next season.

2. What will the Timberwolves do with the No. 3 pick? Do they like Kevin Love as much as rumor has it? Will they go for center Brook Lopez as a natural complement to Al Jefferson? Will they trade back? Their decision will be hard to anticipate.

"No matter who you take [in that area], somebody's going to second-guess you,'' a Western GM said. "There is no consensus No. 3 pick.''

1. Who will pick Anthony Randolph? The 6-11 LSU freshman is the "upside'' pick in the draft, but it will take at least a year or two for him to pay off. "He could fail,'' said the Western GM, whose opinions were affirmed by an Eastern executive Thursday. "But at his best, I see him becoming a Lamar Odom. He's pretty athletic, though he doesn't rely on that because he's so multiskilled and versatile. But he's not physically strong enough right now.''

1. Kobe (9-for-26 shooting) looked not unlike LeBron in his Game 1 struggles against Boston. The difference is that James (2-for-18 in his Game 1 at Boston) wound up shooting 35.5 percent in his conference semifinal; the Celtics cannot expect Bryant to continue at a 34.6 percent rate. Those jump shots that rattled out on opening night are going to start dropping sooner than later.

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