The path to a championship isn’t black and white. It’s not just about wins and losses. I took several factors into consideration while assembling my virtual totem pole of champions to be. Current standing, current roster construction, roster makeup, available resources, financial flexibility, competition, history and trust.
So that’s how this sausage was made, now to the meat:
No. 1 – The Boston Celtics
The Celtics are so far ahead in this evaluation that this is really a list that should rank numbers one, three, three and three, versus a ranking of one through four. That said, let’s start with the No. 1 contender.
The Celtics check all the boxes. Much of the core of the current roster construction has participated in deep postseason play. The Celtics have participated in three of the last four conference finals. Though losers of all three they may be, the Celtics continue to be an ascending asset. Competition is fierce in the Eastern Conference but the Celtics continue to prove they can hang. Their two superstars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both proven and improving young anchors who still haven’t reached their prime. They have an All-Star point guard soon to return, along with a freakishly unique player in Marcus Smart whom after six plus seasons still finds new ways to shock, frustrate and amaze. When it matters most though, you can bank on it, Smart will be there, warts and all.
The role players are well suited to the coach that leads them and rookie Payton Pritchard has become an immediate contributor. GM Danny Ainge has courage of his convictions and has the necessary boldness on his resume to entrust the direction of the franchise to. His continuing obsession with the collection of young assets, positions the team well to add talent to aid in a legitimate championship run when the timing presents itself. Ownership has always and only shown to be supportive to the ultimate goal, Banner 18.
If you’re seeking the cleanest path to another championship push your green chips in here.
No. 2 – The New England Patriots
Take a breath folks. I know the 2020 season was ugly and that the Pats roster is filled with gaping holes. I have written about that very fact time after time the last several weeks, most recently here: Patriots should be getting much-needed fresh set of eyeballs (radio.com). However, if you go back to the top of the column regarding how this sausage is made, allow me to cite a couple of factors: available resources, financial flexibility, history and trust. I’ll start with the last two. You can’t have a better recent history than the Patriots and as it relates to the decision makers, they have my trust implicitly and they should have yours too.
Look, 2020 was a dog and frankly, that’s an insult to dogs. Was Belichick prepared to watch Tom Brady walk after 2019? No. Did he have an appropriate succession plan in place for Rob Gronkowski? No. Has he proven capable of consistently drafting NFL level wide receivers? No. Has he consistently built incredibly competitive teams with deep and talented rosters, capable of competing at the highest level with sustained championship success? Yes. Hard yes actually.
History tells me that this ship can be righted quickly. Available resources and the expected financial flexibility projected at or near $60 million in 2021 leads me to believe that this ship will be righted quickly. The next factor that sticks out is that of competition. Now in the AFC and even in the AFC East the competition is hot. However, competition shouldn’t be defined strictly on a straight line. Though the teams they will play in their conference pose problems, I also trust the compete level in the Kraft’s, Belichick and the Patriots players who will be with the team in the future. In that sense, the consideration of competition is a plus for the Patriots. It’s a competitive bunch and my belief is that this disappointing season will be used as competitive fuel throughout the entire organization. Doesn’t history show us that?
No. 3 - The Fight for who is next, The Boston Red Sox or The Boston Bruins
Comparing the state of these two franchises right now is a fascinating exercise. The Red Sox and the Bruins are in exactly inversed situations.
Despite some tough losses to the roster, particularly with Torey Krug and from a more sentimental view with Zdeno Chara; the Bruins look to be built more for the now, than the future. Right now, they are easily the second best team in the city behind the Celtics. Here’s the problem though, they are built for the now but are the good enough to win the 2021 Stanley Cup? As presently constituted, I say no. The issue here, as I wrote back in October (Hackett: Where we are at with these Boston sports teams (radio.com) is core erosion.
Since Peter Chiarelli took over for Harry Sinden in 2006 and during Don Sweeney’s reign as GM, the Bruins have been easy to root for. Their core aged as well as any team’s core, in any league. A guy like Marchand has improved basically every year.
This 2021 construct though is reminding more of the Sinden built teams of my formative years that were always darn good, but not quite good enough. I’ll never forgive Harry for not going all in during the Bourque and Neely years and as 2021 is set to start, I feel like this team is of that eerily familiar ‘good but not quite good enough’ variety. A shame with a venerable Hall of Famer like Patrice Bergeron as captain and a core we’ve come to love. Right now, with 2021 potentially being the last year in Boston for both Tuukka Rask and David Krejci, the trends are going the wrong way.
Which leads me to the Red Sox. In terms of wins and losses and the potential for a postseason run, of course the Bruins are better positioned, but that’s not the question here. The question is, which team is closer to winning a championship? And in what is probably considered an upset by most, I’m picking the Red Sox. While the Bruins have a win now look with a roster that doesn’t appear poised to win it all, the Red Sox are building purely for what lays ahead.
The Red Sox need a lot, but like the Patriots they have some things going for them. One, though fans don’t like to offer the Red Sox the same quarter afforded the Patriots, their four World Series Championships in fourteen years is more than deserving. Like the Patriots, the ownership group is committed to winning and literally sold out to do so as recently as 2018.
After some frustrating decisions, poor reactions to public scrutiny and plenty of fiscal recklessness mixed in, the Red Sox haven’t done themselves many favors in terms of public perception at times, but the record is there. GM Chaim Bloom is not yet proven here in Boston and the teams’ current silence during the not-so-hot stove season is creating some impatience with the fans but I believe in this guy. Trading Mookie Betts was the unfortunate sum of years of bad decisions that were subsequently dumped on Bloom’s lap to clean up.
The cleanup is in process and there is a long ways to go. Unlike the Bruins however, at least the path of the Red Sox is clear and for that reason, they get the edge.
They also have better sausages ...