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Which team is closest to a championship?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 29, 2013 09:29 AM

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New England sports fans have been so incredibly blessed during the last decade-plus, with the four major sports franchises (sorry, Revo) tallying seven championships since 2001. But we're also reminded of that old Tom Brady go-to line when he's asked which championship is his favorite: "The next one.''

I chatted with Kevin Paul Dupont on the topic of which Boston team will deliver that next one on "Globe 10.0" the other day. But two minutes of jovial bickering apparently didn't do the topic justice since the idea has been ricocheting around in my skull ever since, so here's a couple hundred bonus words on the topic ...

Championship contention? This franchise? I don't know. Do you know? I don't know.

I've gone on record time and again this winter as approving of Ben Cherington's long-range approach toward restoring this franchise's credibility on and off the field. Signing proven, respected veterans to short-term deals as the bridge to a core of prospects the organization truly believes in, all the while holding the reasonable expectation that previously established high-caliber players will return to health and/or form, is a very prudent way to go.

The 2013 Red Sox are going to be better than conventional wisdom suggests, in part because it's actually overlooked how dismal their roster was from August 1 on last season, when they lost 42 of their final 58 games. They're going to be likable and capable, and it feels like they have been neither for a long time, so at least we have that.

But does that translate to true contention? Probably not, unless a deep bullpen masks all question marks in the rotation, everyone in the lineup has a healthy, productive year, a premier player who fits their needs becomes available at midseason, and either Jackie Bradley or Xander Bogaerts emerges ahead of schedule. That's probably too much to ask, but at least the Red Sox will be worth your time again.

Next season of serious contention: I'm telling you, they'll be in the wild card mix this year, but that doesn't count, does it? Let's go with 2015, though I don't think even Cherington's crystal ball can provide an accurate forecast at this point.

If we couldn't admit it before Rajon Rondo's injury, we can now: The only way the Celtics were going to have a shot at reaching the NBA Finals is if Dwyane Wade went on a league-wide rampage of cheap shots unprecedented since the collective 1987 Pistons, with his misguided hackery, undercutting, and elbow-stomping somehow claiming teammate LeBron James along the way. So yes, we're saying there was a chance.

I'll miss watching Rondo doing stuff like this ...

... and this ...

... and I have no idea where Danny Ainge goes from here, though Zach Lowe's suggestion that the Celtics and Warriors might have a match with a Paul Pierce for Harrison Barnes/Richard Jefferson swap at least elicited a "hmmmm, interesting."

Next season of serious contention: Probably about the time Tim Duncan's son is eligible for the draft. He's five.

Rodney Harrison, whom Bill Belichick really should have cloned for future use during his peak years, is on The Dan Patrick Show as I'm writing this, and he just admitted to something that surprised me, though maybe it shouldn't. After some prodding by Patrick and a couple of verbal detours about the challenges of Super Bowl week, Harrison admitted that he thinks about the Patriots' Super Bowl loss in 2007 far more often than he considers the victories in 2003 and '04.

I suppose it's not news that he's tormented by the David Tyree catch, but it was a jarring reminder that the Patriots have had an almost unfathomable string of "what-ifs" since that last championship eight years ago. What if Harrison can pry that ball loose? What if Rob Gronkowski isn't injured last season and again this year? What if Deion Branch was still here in '06? What if ... well, that's enough. You don't require the reminders.

It's been a truly extraordinary dozen years for the Patriots -- they don't get enough credit for essentially turning over their entire roster save for the quarterback without as much as a hiccup -- and that should never be taken for granted. I just hope we never get to the point around here of remembering the disappointments ahead of the many victories.

Next season of serious contention: The pursuit of the elusive fourth ring -- that coveted "next one'' -- for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick begins anew in September.

Now, I'm not disregarding all of the people who lost income when the NHL owners and players were engaged in their petty little lockout showdown. But purely from a hockey sense, is it possible that all of the labor melodrama actually benefited the Bruins in a meaningful way?

A league-high 12 of their players went overseas, giving them somewhat of a conditioning advantage. The core of their championship team from two years ago is still intact, so perhaps training camp isn't as essential to them as it is to teams with considerable roster turnover. They have tremendous depth and should be able to navigate the condensed schedule with relative ease. Nathan Horton got extra time to make sure the clouds had gone away.

And how about that fortunate timing, essentially beginning their season as the Patriots were fading out? I think that went a long way toward limiting the potential lockout backlash, almost as if Boston fans realized, "Wait, how fortunate are we to be going from one championship contender right into the season of another?" OK, maybe it didn't quite work that way. You guys just can't resist hockey.

Next season of serious contention: We're five games into it. Thank goodness they came back.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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