There are very few NBA experts picking the Boston Celtics to win the NBA title this season, but if you ask Paul Pierce who the best team in the league will be this winter, he'll tell you, without a doubt in his mind, that it is the Celtics.
"I like us even better than I did when we won the championship," Pierce said in interview with Celtics.com reporter Peter Stringer. "I think the talent is definitely there. It's about the commitment and just staying healthy."
The Celtics return all five starters from that 2008 championship team. And while aging All-Stars Kevin Garnett (knee) and Ray Allen may or may not have lost a step since then depending on whom you ask, point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two seasons.
With the additions of forwards Rasheed Wallace and Sheldon Williams, and guard Marquis Daniels, and the re-signing of the much-improved forward Glen Davis, the Celtics are a lot deeper now than they were in 2008.
Even if the Celtics are better than they were when they won their last championship, it doesn't mean they will win the title this season. All of the teams at the top improved by adding at least one additional player, including, but not limited to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, whose major addition was All-Star forward Ron Artest, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who signed All-Star center Shaquille O'Neal, the Orlando Magic, who signed All-Star guard Vince Carter, and the San Antonio Spurs, who signed talented guard Richard Jefferson.
"I feel like if we're healthy, we are the team to beat," Pierce said. "I think a year ago, when you look at it, we missed Kevin for 25 games and we were still able to win 62 games. Cleveland won 66 and they'll be better, I believe, with Shaq - from starting [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas to starting Shaq now. Other than that it will be the same lineup and you know how scary LeBron [James] is when he is on the court.
"They are going to be a team to reckon with in the East but I think we have an advantage because we bring our starting five back and we've been together a couple of years, and we've added depth off of the bench and I think that's going to help us tremendously."
The Celtics won't have to wait long to see the new-look Cavaliers. Cleveland hosts Boston in both team's season opener.