By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - While the Boston Red Sox were putting the finishing touches on a World Series championship on Wednesday, the NBA's Boston Celtics were kicking off a rebuilding phase with a season-opening loss.
Few Bostonians were paying much attention to the Celtics' 93-87 road loss to the Toronto Raptors, however, as champagne corks were popping at Fenway Park, a sobering reminder of how suddenly sporting fortunes can change.
The toast of Beantown themselves not long ago, the bar has not been set high for the new-look Celtics and first-year head coach Brad Stevens.
Indeed, lean times appear to be ahead for a franchise that enjoyed a return to its glory days when All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in 2007 before leading the team to six straight playoff appearances, two runs to the NBA Finals and one title.
Having celebrated three World Series, three Super Bowls, a Stanley Cup and NBA championship over the last 12 years there is no need to feel sorry for spoiled Boston sports fans.
But it appears unlikely the Celtics will be contributing to Beantown's championship legacy again anytime soon.
Following last year's first round playoff exit the Celtics began its rebuild in explosive fashion by demolishing the team right down to the foundation.
Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry were traded to the Brooklyn Nets for three first round draft picks, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks and Kris Joseph.
Coach Doc Rivers was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for another draft pick.
With nine first round picks spread over the next five years, the Celtics long-term future looks bright but the overhaul has just begun.
"I walk out of here (Toronto) with some positives to build on," Stevens said after Boston's 93-87 loss to Toronto. "We're going to get better handling the ball, we're going to get better rebounding, we're going to get better at keeping guys in front of us and we fought back and competed.
"We've got a lot of different guys who on certain nights are really good and hopefully we can develop some consistency about us.
"I'm not a guy who takes a lot of positives in losses usually but I am able to take away some things tonight that we got better at."
Celtics supporters can only hope their patience will not be tested the same way Raptors fans have been with Toronto in a seemingly continual rebuilding mode since their last playoff appearance in 2008.
Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani had 13 points and could be a cornerstone of the Boston rebuild along with holdover All-Star guard Rajon Rondo when he returns from knee surgery.
"Vitor was very solid early on," said Stevens. "He has so much room to improve and he's already improved.
"Certainly we have a keeper there and we just have to keep helping him get better."
Canadian Kelly Olynyk, the 13th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, could also find himself has part of Boston's long-term future but the remainder of the Celtics lineup seems unlikely to be part of any future championships.
Well-travelled Jeff Green, drafted fifth overall by Boston in 2007 and immediately traded away before being reacquired in 2011, led Boston on Wednesday with a game-high 25 points and will be counted on to provide scoring in the short term.
Humphries, better known for his reality television marriage to Kim Kardashian than for what he does on the basketball court, will provide help on the boards.
For the moment, however, Celtics fans will have to content themselves with talk of moral victories, patience, and like the Red Sox, who went from last place in the division last season to the top of the baseball world this year, hope to prove pundits wrong.
"The Red Sox for the past couple of years - they're my inspiration," Green said on the Celtics website. "I watched them the last couple of years. Nobody would think that they'd be at the point they're at right now with guys who just came out of nowhere and play together and are all on the same page and they're getting the job done.
"I think we're in a similar position where we have guys that not a lot of people know."
(Editing by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
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