- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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Ainge and his fellow basketball bosses in Miami, New York and Chicago have a very short window in which to act. Like, now. That's because whatever they do, however they do it, NO ONE WILL CARE! That's because baseball has taken over the aforementioned four cities, making hoop fans wonder if the exhibition season has started or if training camp has even opened.
The Celtics, for instance, played an exhibition game against the Pistons on Wednesday night at a casino in Connecticut. They were going up against the Red Sox and Yankees in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. I think they actually played the basketball game and, amazingly, more than 5,000 people showed up to watch it. (What were they thinking?) The Celtics are going to Chicago this weekend for an exhibition game against the Bulls. With the Cubs and Red Sox both playing, that hoop game may be available somewhere on Public Access television.
Nature abhors a vacuum, we're all taught in science class at some point along the way. Well, it's the exact opposite with coaches and general managers. They love it. The happiest days Jeff Van Gundy ever spent in New York came when the Yankees and Mets were in the 2000 World Series. No one even noticed his Knicks were even around as Van Gundy prayed for rain every day. Jim O'Brien, Pat Riley, Don Chaney and Bill Cartwright must feel the same way.
The fewer distractions, the more coaches like it. Normally in Boston at this time of the sports year, there'd be at least some water-cooler discussion as to whether Vin Baker is going to be any good, or if rookie Marcus Banks is up to the challenge of playing point guard. Or whether the Celtics will continue to fire up threes at a bewildering pace. There'd be a handful of reporters and a few minicams at every practice. But those topics will have to wait for now because the Red Sox are playing in the ALCS and, basically, nothing else matters. The minicams had gone to New York. So had most of the reporters.
The same is true in New York. The Knicks may have finally added Mutombo -- about four years too late, by the way. But even the decrepit, calcifying Mutombo is a dramatic upgrade at the center position for the Knicks because, well, they don't have anyone else, and I know they have Michael Doleac on their roster. Normally, that would be big news in New York. The tabloids would be screaming and the Knicks' fans would be salivating. Along with the (maybe) return of Antonio McDyess, the Knicks could start talking about making the playoffs without an accompanying laugh track.
But the world came to an end on Wednesday night in New York because the Yankees lost Game 1 to the Red Sox. For all we know, Mutombo could've been working out with the Knicks and McDyess could be running, jumping and dunking.
The Marlins have taken over southern Florida -- although we'll never see the day when baseball in that part of the land trumps college football. But it sure is trumping basketball right now. I think the Heat might have played an exhibition game in Puerto Rico recently. Or was that the Expos? The Bulls, of course, have been irrelevant for years, anyway. But they might be decent this year.
The one team making news, mostly for the wrong reasons, is the Lakers. There's the ongoing Kobe Bryant story, which is only going to worsen when more details become public. There's the Big Atkins starting to make some noise about touches and contract extensions. There's still a lot of people tracking the new-look Lakers.
But the Celtics, Heat, Bulls and Knicks might as well be playing on Pluto. Maybe those four teams should get together for a weekend tournament in the same place where Dick Cheney always goes in moments of crisis.
No one is suggesting that baseball's playoffs aren't more critical and newsworthy than exhibition basketball. Of course they are. And in the four cities still alive, and with the news being dominated by the baseball teams, it represents the perfect time for Ainge or Pat Riley or John Paxson or Scott Layden to pull that elusive trigger. Layden already did it with Mutombo.
Eventually, of course, the baseball will end and these four teams will re-emerge. Well, three of them will, anyway. We're not sure the people of Miami care all that much about the Heat even in basketball season. By then, it will be too late. By then, people will start paying attention. By then, people will -- dare we say it? -- care.
So now's the time, fellas. Strike while the iron is hot and the scrutiny is off. Make that trade. Sign that free agent.
And then, in a couple weeks, your fans will be back and will be saying to themselves, "Where'd he come from?" And you can say, "I did it while you were away. Nice to have you back."
Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
4dEthan Sherwood Strauss
5dMatt Walks, ESPN.com