Before a game in Boston last week, Shaquille O'Neal was asked for his take on the wide-open race for the NBA's most valuable player award.
"The Kobester -- he's an assassin -- with LeBron coming in right behind," O'Neal said. "After that, I really haven't been paying attention."
|Kevin Garnett has helped Boston go from 24 wins last season to the best record in the league. (AP)|
Kevin Garnett? Heard of him?
"I'm going to have to go with my guy before him," O'Neal said, motioning toward teammate Amare Stoudemire. "All day, every day."
Although it's doubtful many voters will join O'Neal on the Stoudemire bandwagon, that assessment is an indication of how Garnett's MVP campaign -- which was going strong just a couple of months ago -- has fizzled of late. Exactly why is unclear.
The Celtics, who won just 24 games last season, have the league's best record, and Garnett -- acquired in a blockbuster seven-for-one trade last July -- is the main reason "Celtic Pride" is once again a slogan instead of a punch line.
"The whole face of the Celtics turned around when the trade happened with this guy," said teammate Paul Pierce, who has played in Boston for nearly a decade. "Everyone talks about the MVP and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here, and I think that says a lot for everything."
Teams that make major offseason overhauls usually take months to develop into a cohesive unit, but the Celtics seemed to have chemistry from the first day of training camp.
Garnett deserves a great deal of credit for that because he was willing to sacrifice his individual numbers to become a part of an All-Star trio with Pierce and Ray Allen (who also was acquired last summer).
Before Wednesday's game against Indiana, Pierce was the only Boston player averaging 20 points a game. Garnett was averaging 18.9 points and 9.4 rebounds with Allen adding 18 points.
James was averaging a league-leading 30.4 points, Bryant was second at 28.6 points and Paul was averaging 21.4 points and a league-best 11.4 assists.
"I think it's a great time for the league because there are so many different candidates, ranging from point guards to centers, that could potentially win the MVP," Allen said.