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A final plan to fare well

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  March 1, 2013 10:45 AM

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Note: After more than four years at the Boston Globe and Boston.com, this is Tony Massarotti's final blog entry on Boston.com.

The beauty of Boston is that the stories are always evolving, the teams always developing, the objectives always changing. The Bruins appear to be at the beginning of an extended run of success, the Patriots perhaps much closer to the end of one. The Celtics are clinging to hope. The Red Sox trying to rebuild it.

Where these teams end up remains as uncertain as ever, if only because there are no sure things in sports.

But then, ultimately, that is why we all watch.

Here, then, is a long-term prognosis for Boston's four major franchises, each of which has won a championship in the last eight years, each of which stands as a cornerstone in what is, subjectively, the very best professional sports town in America.

Tyler Seguin just turned 21. Dougie Hamilton is 19. Tuukka Rask is 26. Those three players are the axis around which the Bruins could swirl for the next 10-15 years, the kind of franchise nucleus that every team would like to possess.

And we haven't even begun to mention Brad Marchand (24), Patrice Bergeron (27), David Krejci (26) or Milan Lucic (24). The Bruins are young. They're generally signed. And they are seemingly in position to contend for Stanley Cups through the current decade, which is no small feat given where they were as recently as a few years ago.

Quite simply, it will be a disappointment if this team doesn't win another championship sometime in the new few years (or so).

The challenges? To stay healthy and focused. To avoid complacency. This is as true for management as it for the players, particularly as the annual trading deadline nears. The Bruins do not have a Sidney Crosby or a Steven Stamkos, and trades will be necessary to bolster the talent. Good trades result from good drafts, the recent lot of which have helped bring the Bruins to where they are.

On the cusp of another golden era of hockey in Boston.

Let's hope they relish the chance.

For those chanting that all-too-familiar refrain - Blow it up - be careful what you wish for. From the fall of 1993 through the spring of 2007 – the 14-year period between Larry Bird and Kevin Garnett – the Celtics ranked 23d among the 30 NBA teams in winning percentage. They missed the playoffs nine times. The Celtics went an aggregate 472-644, a .423 winning percentage that translated into an average annual record of 35-47.

Why are we reminding of you that? Because it took 14 years to sufficiently arm them with the pieces necessary to acquire Garnett.

Admittedly, this team is probably in better shape, though it would be interesting to see the same group return next year minus Garnett and Paul Pierce. Get the picture? If Danny Ainge were to have traded either Garnett or Pierce at the deadline for a collection of lesser players, the Celtics would be the Milwaukee Bucks. And just who, exactly, would they target as their next Garnett?

Yes, it could be some time before this team wins another championship. In the interim, we'll just have to ask the Celtics to max out. As disappointing as the recent five-game road trip may have been to some, the Celtics are 3-4 on the road since Rajon Rondo was lost to a season-ending injury. Prior to that, they went 7-14 away from the Garden. They're still no worse off than they basically were a month ago because they weren't going to win a championship anyway.

In the interim, enjoy the competitive basketball for as long as it lasts.

In the Eastern Conference, short of Miami, does anyone really want to face them in the playoffs?

As we all know, NFL contracts aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Tom Brady is now signed for the next five years, and there is every chance he will play that long, be it under the terms of this current deal or a renegotiated one. And so long as Brady is upright, the Patriots will continue to chase Super Bowls.

Beyond that, the Patriots now have a number of young pieces in place for the long term. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Nate Solder, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Wendell, Chandler Jones, Alfonzo Dennard, Dont'a Hightower, Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes are all basically 26 or younger. There are a host of other players who are between 26 and 30 (including Jerod Mayo). What Bill Belichick has effectively done in recent years is rebuild much of the New England roster save for a few places.

Of course, quarterback is one of them.

As the Baltimore Ravens recently proved, you don't need the best quarterback in the league to win a championship. You just need a good one. In the long term, that might make it a little easier to find Brady's successor, particularly given the age of the Patriots roster and the great flexibility with which New England is entering this offseason.

Obviously, the next 2-3 years are huge. While the roster is growing, Brady is still playing at a high level. Thus, the needs on this team are obvious to everyone. Belichick's ability to address them will determine the success of this club in the short term, and we all know the standard to which the Patriots hold themselves.

Super Bowl or bust.

Over the last 10 years, owner John Henry and his partners have almost entirely rebuilt Fenway Park. Now, oddly enough, the entire Boston baseball operation is undergoing the renovation.

And so, as they transition to the next era in their history, the please-pardon-our-appearance Red Sox enter 2013 with avalanche of questions and issues. For the first time in a long time, we really have no idea how this is all going to look. Ultimately, the idea is transition from a star-studded Hollywood cast to a pack of new up-and-comers, a process that will take months, if not years.

From (Humphrey) Bogart to (Xander) Bogaerts. Given the disdain with which we all held the Sox of September 2011-October 2012, let's remember that this is what we all wanted: to build something again. More than anything, what we need from the Red Sox this year are some real signs of progress in the second half of the season, by which the members of Red Sox Youth should be having a greater impact. Next offseason may prove the most important of the Henry Era - however long it lasts - because, by then, the Sox should have won many of you back.

And once the Red Sox get closer, will they stick to their plan of rebuilding from within? Or will they succumb to their indisputable urges and start focusing on the ratings again?

Growth, as we all know, is not necessarily linear. Over the next months and years, there will be an ebb and flow to this process. We will all need to be patient. But for now, at least, it certainly feels as if the Red Sox are building something again.

And this time, they truly seem to be building it as much for you as they are for themselves.

* * *

A few words on the end of this blog: Eventually, we all say goodbye. This seems a lot less final.

For those of who you care, I am fairly certain I will write again. I'm just not sure when or where. The Globe and Boston.com were gracious enough to keep me on as contributor when I pursued other endeavors late in 2009, and they were willing to keep me now. I cannot possibly thank them enough for that because I've recently wondered (quite frequently) whether I was really pulling my weight.

But as we all know, things change. Parenthood requires more and more energy as children grow older, and every endeavor demands greater focus and commitment over time. There just haven't been enough hours in the day for me of late. So that means cutting back, redistributing, reorganizing.

To all of you who have happily or critically read this blog, thank you for showing up. The Globe has indicated a willingness to keep blog archives accessible, so for nostalgia's sake, I've picked out a few of my personal favorites and identified them in the "Top 5" list on the side of this page.

Writing and talking about sports in Boston remains a passion of mine and always will. Thanks again to all of you for giving me the opportunity to do that, for keeping me in line, for offering validation. There is simply no better place in America to do what we do.

See you later.

Tony's Top 5

Favorite blog entries

The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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