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It's not just three for the show

Stars emphasize team concept

Celtics stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen have developed chemistry off the court even as they are getting used to each other on it. Celtics stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen have developed chemistry off the court even as they are getting used to each other on it. (CHARLES KRUPA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Celtics' new star trio of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce is on the cover of Sports Illustrated's and ESPN the Magazine's NBA previews, not the reigning champion Spurs. ESPN sent a private jet for the three to film commercials in Bristol, Conn., NBA's Inside Stuff interviewed them in Rome, and TNT's John Thompson flew to New York to ask them questions. There are 19 Celtics games scheduled for ESPN, TNT, and NBATV, with more nationally televised contests possible. The majority of home games are sold out, their jerseys are flying off the shelves, and their slogan this season is the far-from-shy "THINK BIG."

Yes, green is the new color of the NBA, even though today's Celtics have yet to play a real game together. Boston's heralded trio and coach Doc Rivers, however, won't believe the hype.

"There is nothing I can do about it," Rivers said. "I don't do the picking. We haven't done anything. We haven't proven anything. We can't look further than the next day."

Said Allen: "Every year there is going to be somebody, whether it's commercials or on the cover of magazines. And every year there is going to be a new segment of shoes coming out, a new segment of commercials coming out. It's just part of the business.

"We just know that at every year at a certain time we have certain things to take care of. People are going to speculate how they want about who is going to finish where. At some point the ball is going to go up and you have to start winning."

While the NBA season officially starts tonight, the ball doesn't officially go up for the Celtics until Friday against Washington at TD Banknorth Garden. Sure, the hype may be out of control. But the excitement and potential for greatness is legitimate.

It's not often there are three perennial NBA All-Stars on the same roster. After being the second-worst team in the NBA last season and making headlines with a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak, trades for Garnett and Allen have brought back memories of how it used to be during the glory days of Larry Bird and Bill Russell.

It has cost the Celtics $74.2 million to put together a team that has dreams of bringing the first NBA championship banner to Boston since 1986. But from ownership's standpoint, the roster could be worth every penny.

"This team looks better than I thought it would look right now," managing partner and governor Wyc Grousbeck said. "So my expectations are very high."

Garnett team player

In the center of this new love affair with the Celtics is Garnett.

He is considered one of the best players in the NBA and could become the biggest star in a Celtics uniform since Bird. His No. 5 jersey is the hottest seller in the NBA right now, and he also is the center of the majority of pictures taken of the trio.

But Garnett doesn't want the spotlight all to himself, nor does he feel totally comfortable with it, either. Whether it's a picture or an interview, the 2004 NBA Most Valuable Player would prefer that Allen and Pierce were alongside. In fact, Garnett has shown teammates often that he is about the team, by doing such things as giving them pointers during games, buying the rookies suits, or cheering loudly while on the bench.

"One person doesn't make a team," Garnett said. "One person brings his part to a team. He brings what he does. He brings his flaws. He brings what he does well to the party. But one man don't make a party. When you come to a party, there are all types of people in there.

"You've got Big Baby [rookie Glen Davis], who's on the mike all night. You've got Leon Powe, who looks like he's security. You've got Perk [Kendrick Perkins], who looks like he's mad at everybody. You've got Paul and Ray, who are in there dancing all night, along with Eddie House, who has metaphors for days. Then you've got the politicians with [Rajon] Rondo and [Tony] Allen. I've never once thought I was bigger than the team. No one should do that. I won't do that with interviews, publications, national attention. I don't think it's right."

Not all on board

While the Celtics are the toast of the NBA right now, they have some naysayers, too.

Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace questioned whether they could jell in time to make the playoffs and wondered about their supporting cast. Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said everyone is jumping on the Celtics' bandwagon, and predicted they would lose to his team Friday. Bucks guard Michael Redd said he didn't think anyone was intimidated by Boston.

"I heard Arenas," Pierce said. "It's always good for the sport. It's something you can talk about, we can bring up. A year ago these people wouldn't be saying anything about us. We'll see what happens on the court. You know, I got this famous quote, man, 'The more that we're hated lets me know that we made it.' "

Garnett can understand where the skeptics are coming from.

"We haven't played a whole lot of basketball together," he said. "We're dealing with preseason, and preseason is different from the season . . . just like the playoffs are different than the season. There are going to be different types of things we're going to have to conquer this year. All of them are going to be different.

"The Chicagos, the Detroits, the Miamis, they've got a jump on us. The Clevelands, the Jerseys, they've got a jump on us. We've got our work ahead of us."

So far so good

Whether the Celtics can live up to the hype will depend heavily on how Garnett, Ray Allen, and Pierce co-exist on and off the court. So far they seem to be an unselfish scoring machine on the court and have a brother-like relationship off it.

They spent time working out together in Waltham and speaking to one another before the beginning of camp Sept. 30. The three also were given the opportunity to bond quickly over meals, card games, tours, and plane and bus rides since the Celtics spent a lengthy part of camp in Rome and London. Each has said their personal agendas have been pushed aside in hopes of an elusive championship.

"I expected KG and Ray to be good additions, but they're great additions," Grousbeck said. "They're better than I thought they were. They are blending together with Paul better than I thought anyone could."

Said Ray Allen: "When you get your driver's license, you don't really learn until after you get it. We'll still learn a lot about each other the next 20 games."

There's a lot of basketball to be played before the NBA Finals begin next June, and it's anyone's guess whether these star-studded Celtics will be participating. But with Garnett, Allen, and Pierce together, the Celtics are definitely walking into one of the most interesting seasons in franchise history whether it leads to a title or not.

"You can't be afraid of a little adventure," Allen said. "That's what we are all about to go on."

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