It's hard to say what is the bigger surprise -- the fact the allegedly 70-win capable Celtics are such an abject disappointment that their record is within reach of Kevin Durant and Co., or that in the Darwinian Western Conference, callow OKC is firmly ensconced in the playoffs at 17 games above .500.
It was Oklahoma City, in its previous incarnation as the Seattle SuperSonics, that made the Big Three -- and their now apparent demise -- possible. Danny Ainge was desperate to salvage a doomed lottery that saw the C's bumped to the fifth pick, despite having the league's second-worst record in 2006-07. Seattle got the ping-pong balls to bounce its way to move up to the No. 2 spot in the 2007 draft, right behind Portland, which won the lottery, putting the pseudo-Sonics in position to take Durant and then trade Ray Allen to Boston.
Instead of Durant, who is second in the NBA in scoring to LeBron James at 29.8 points per game, as their franchise cornerstone of the future alongside Rajon Rondo and Al Jefferson, the Celtics cashed in their chips. (Lest you think Ainge would have taken Greg Oden, remember him sitting next to Durant's mother at a Texas game.)
They got Allen, a second-round pick that became Glen Davis and eventually Kevin Garnett, who after initially nixing a deal to the Celtics hopped aboard to play with Paul Pierce and Allen. The quick fix was an instant success as the Big Three brought home Banner No. 17.
The question is which team would you rather be today -- Oklahoma City with the dynamic Durant, a young Rondo-esque point guard in Russell Westbrook and roster flexibility or the Celtics with an NBA-elderly championship core, the real Rondo, and a grim future?
Give me Durant -- there is not a more unstoppable scorer in the NBA -- and the OKC bunch. Despite their embarrassing Arena League team name, the Thunder have something the Celtics don't have -- hope and room for improvement. This is as good as it gets for the Celtics. Unless coach Doc Rivers can find a time machine, the Celtics aren't going to improve.
Everything with the Celtics now is about the past. Players who are past their prime. Constant references to past success members of the team have had. Opposing teams who get past their once vaunted defense when it really counts.
The team's new Glory Days have proved fleeting.
Oklahoma City's best days are ahead. Rookie guard James Harden looks like a keeper. Like Rondo, Westbrook can get to the rim on anyone, but unlike Rondo he looks capable of improving his jump shot. Jeff Green, who was selected with the pick the Celtics sent for Allen, is a solid young player with trade value.
Watching Durant play alone is enough to erase the revisionist history about losing the lottery being some sort of stroke of fabled fortune for the Celtics because it beget the Big Three and another championship. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to watch Durant and Rondo play together, not to mention the fact that the Celtics, unlike Durant's Thunder, would still have a legitimate power forward in Jefferson.
Now that's a Big Three you can build around -- Durant, Rondo and Big Al.
It's wishful thinking, like the Celtics winning another title this year or the near future, unless Ainge can miraculously move Garnett or Paul Pierce and their monster salaries.
Razing this team is the fastest path to raising Banner No. 18.
That was clear even before the Cavaliers outhustled, outdefended and outrebounded the Celtics yesterday in a 104-93 victory.
The Celtics didn't play their best against the LeBrons, but it wouldn't have mattered because their best isn't good enough any more. The last legit NBA title contender they beat with its full complement of players was the Magic on Christmas Day. The Green are now 3-12 against the title-seeking sextet of Cleveland, Orlando, the LA Lakers, Atlanta, Denver, and Dallas.
The worst part is that the Celtics themselves believe otherwise. Deny isn't just something they try to do on defense. It's their default defense for this entire season.
It's one thing to be upbeat and optimistic, which is just the nature of Rivers, but it's another to have veterans like 35-year-old Rasheed Wallace pointing to their championship pedigree after each loss.
Wallace was abhorrent against the Cavs. He was 1 for 8 from the field, was abused on both ends by Anderson Varejao, repeatedly failed to box out his man and was freelancing on defense. Just like hockey, the NBA now has plus-minus, Wallace was a minus-17.
The team would have been better off leaving him at the hotel.
Too often this season Celtics players have made comments like this one Wallace made following Boston getting blown out on the parquet by the Memphis Grizzlies last week.
"This team has been there, no matter where we're coming from -- Mike [Finley] from San Antonio, me from Detroit. The guys here have won it already. Once the big-boy shots come we'll be ready."
The last time I checked, no one on the Celtics roster was Bill Russell when it came to rings.
Durant isn't going to win 11 titles either, but he looks a lot more likely than the Celtics to win one going forward.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.