Bill Simmons joined the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to discuss the Celtics ‘ heavily hyped season-opener against the Heat. Simmons talked about LeBron James  and his new crew in Miami and how the Big Three in South Beach will fare this season.
He also talked about the Celtics’ chances for success in the 2010-11 season. Simmons said that Paul Pierce  is the player the team could least afford to lose.
“Pierce is the guys who can guard the other small forward, the guy who can take over a little bit at the end of the game. I even think they could survive a Rondo injury. … Pierce is the guy who they’d really feel it.”
Below are some highlights from the interview. To listen to the full audio visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page .
Do you buy into the corporate lie that the Celtics are telling, that the regular season really means more to them this year than it did last year, because hell, had they won five or six more games in the regular season, the seventh game [of the NBA finals ] would have been in Boston last year? Isn’t this an aging veteran team that just needs to get to the playoffs healthy?
That’s a good question, John Dennis . I don’t believe them. I do think the one difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is they have a bench. And when you have a bench, you can win games that maybe ‘ last year’s team, the starters, they didn’t show up, the team was not going to win. And I think you’ll see when Delonte [West] comes back ‘ I’ve got to say I was shocked by how good Delonte looked in the preseason. I thought out of everything I watched, that was the one thing I didn’t expect.
He just was bad last year. Obviously, it started out with him riding on a motorcycle with guns, and he got suspended and missed preseason and just was never what he was in 2008, when he was the second-best player on a team that almost bear the Celtics. I think that he is back to where he was, from what I saw. And when you see him and Nate [Robinson] come off the bench, I actually think that’s a backcourt that can swing a game for six, seven minutes. Then you throw in Big Baby [Glen Davis ], who’s in fantastic shape. I’m not crazy about Jermaine O’Neal , obviously, but if he’s your 10th man, that’s not a terrible thing.
I just think the difference with last year vs. this year is Paul Pierce can go 5-for-19 in Detroit or Philly or wherever and they can still win the game because they have other guys.
What do you see [Shaquille O’Neal’s] role here? How many minutes does he play? How effective will he be?
First of all, I can’t believe how huge he’s gone over in Boston. Even my dad likes him. And I guess this goes to a deeper thing about for whatever reason, Boston’s always had these athletes that are not guys that are going to be walking around in public and hugging little kids. [David] Ortiz I guess is like that, but there’s something different about Shaq. Not only does he like the attention, but he actually goes and solicits it and he’s creative with that.
He was seen in public more just last weekend than Kevin Garnett  has been in three years.
Right. This goes throughout history. Bobby Orr  wasn’t like that, [Ray Bourque ] wasn’t like that, [Larry] Bird wasn’t like that, Yaz [Carl Yastrzemski] ‘ think of all the guys we grew up with.
Yeah, but he’s not a star here. He’s not going to be a star.
I thought he was washed up. First of all, he’s in shape. Second of all, he actually seems like he’s totally fine with playing 20-25 minutes a game, whatever they need. Third, it seems like Kobe [Bryant] winning that fifth title, he claims that wasn’t the big motivator, but I feel like it was, because he could have made a lot more money on many other teams than this one.
And it seems that him and Garnett really respect each other. You look at Shaq in Miami, and Shaq in Phoenix, and even Shaq a little bit last year, because I think there was some stuff with [coach] Mike Brown  that never totally came out. But he did undermine some stuff behind the scenes. I don’t think he’s going to do that here. I think he’s going to happy filling the role.
My question is what happens when [Kendrick] Perkins comes back? Because Perkins is pretty moody. Shaq is somebody that is always great to have those first two months when he’s there, but the last two months always seem to end not that great. I do wonder if they’re going to flip him in February, when Perkins comes back. It does make sense. Or flip Perkins, or whatever. It’s just hard for me to think that they’d be playing all these centers at the same time. Nobody’s going to be happy if they’re all playing 15 minutes a game.
You’ve heard of bullpen by committee with the Red Sox  a number of years ago. Isn’t this big man by committee?
It would work against Dwight Howard , because you could use the 24 fouls. That could possibly [work]. It’s one of those sports you need nine guys. You need the guy who’s the best guy. Then you need the guy who’s the second-banana/sidekick guy. Then you need your four guys off the bench. You don’t really want to get any crazier than that, because then guys are worrying about minutes, it’s getting a little dicey in the locker room, all that stuff.
That brings us to Miami. Everybody just thinks Wade and LeBron are going to play together and figure this out on the fly. That’s the thing I want to see more than anything. I just can’t wait to see this team play, and I can’t wait to see what happens when this team is tied with a minute to go. Who gets the ball? Is the other guy going to be fine just standing in the corner? These are things I want to see not just tonight, but over the course of 82 games. How is this going to play out? I have no idea. I literally have no idea.
Didn’t LeBron implicitly already agree to be the second? You saw that Sports Illustrated cover where he kind of stepped back into the shadows. I think that showed a lot. He’s OK with his role of deferring to Wade in the last two minutes.
He’s OK now. But I agree with you. Here’s the funny thing: If you look at it statistically, LeBron by far was the best guy in the league last year in the last two minutes. ‘¦ LeBron had one of the best seasons in the history of basketball last year, not just in the clutch but in every respect. It’s really hard for me to believe that he’s going to be fine with just turning this over to Wade.
This is a guy that released a two-minute, five-second Nike commercial yesterday. This is not somebody who doesn’t have an ego. It sounds great on paper to say, “Yeah, he was always more Magic Johnson  than Michael [Jordan], and this is what he always wanted, he’s a facilitator, he’s not somebody who wants to dominate at the end of games, he’s unselfish. But yet, for the last seven years, he’s been forced to be selfish, and I’m not sure you can just cut that off and just flip the switch and go back to Magic. He might be able to do it, but I think that’s going to be interesting.
I also think Bosh is like George Harrison now. Nobody talks about him. He’s just been pushed to the side. This is a guy that was one of the biggest free agent prizes and now is like this afterthought. Part of me wonders is he going to be all right with this arrangement, too. I think he knew he was going to be in the background. But, to get no attention whatsoever. Now it’s just LeBron and Wade. When was the last conversation you had about Chris Bosh?
And this is somebody that is really their only guy who can score in the low post. He’s their only shot-blocker. He’s a weak defender, too. I think tonight you’re going to see the Celtics go right at him and try to get him in foul trouble and try to figure out ways to take advantage of him. We’re going to learn right away if he’s a center or not.
On LeBron James’ Nike commercial:
It seemed like Nike makes a gazillion dollars and has a lot of smart guys and it seems like they were there for like a month trying to figure that out. Trying to make him likable, seem self-deprecating, make him seem like he did wonder if he did the right thing and all that stuff, but at the same time kind of reestablish what his brand was.I don’t know what his brand is because the guy damaged his brand without really doing anything. He didn’t commit a crime, there was no sex scandal, there was no Jenn Sterger, there was no anything, no drugs.
I have a feeling that forget about the commercial, the best thing that he’s going to do is if this team starts out 32-2 and at the end of December he’s averaging 32 points, 11 assists, 12 rebounds. People are going to forget about last summer. All you have to do is play well and make yourself must see TV and then everything else is going to fade away. You know if that doesn’t happen, and they’re not playing so well and there’s a little alpha-dog battle between him and Wade, I just don’t see how he comes back. No Nike commercial can do it.
If you were to rate the rivalries from Shaq’s perspective, who does he hate the most?
Orlando or Dwight Howard. I think it’s Dwight Howard 1A, Kobe 1B. He hates Dwight Howard. Dwight Howard took his nickname. I think Shaq took that really personally, Dwight Howard also, he’s kind of played the Shaq playbook. He did the Superman thing, terrible free-throw shooter, he’s one of those guys who tries to be larger than life and do things like interview himself at halftime. It’s all like Shaq stuff. And I think that Shaq has a big ego, you want to talk about guys with big egos, Shaq has the biggest ego.
The Orlando games [are] another interesting subplot to this Celtics season. The Miami games are going to be really, really heated. The Lakers games are going to be really, really heated and the Orlando games are going to be really, really heated. That’s at least nine games, regular season games that are going to feel like playoff games.
On last year’s impact on this year:
I was surprised like you about how bitter these Celtics are about last year. You figure o they won in 2008, they definitely must have gotten over it by now, but it definitely does not seem that way. I always thought that Ray Allen  got really hurt at the beginning of Game 3 [of the NBA finals]. It was like within the first two minutes and [Ron] Artest kneed him in the thigh and he was never the same. I think that was the game he went 0-for-14 or it might have been the next game. He was just never the same after that and they didn’t make excuses, “Oh, no, Ray is fine, Ray is fine.”
But now it comes out after, from that play he had a deep thigh bruise and he was playing with one leg. There’s been stuff written about that. You think about the combo of that with Perkins and this team was still two plays away from winning that game. I still think if Artest’s 3 doesn’t go in the Celtics win that game. It is really the closest a team has come to winning a championship without winning it and I think those guys all think about that constantly and I think those guys want to get back.
Who is the one Celtic who can’t go down for an extended period?
Probably [Paul] Pierce. I’m just not a Marquis Daniels  guy, I don’t know why they re-signed him. That’s the one thing that makes no sense to me. I do think that they can be fine without even playing Daniels]. Pierce is the guys who can guard the other small forward, the guy who can take over a little bit at the end of the game. I even think they could survive a [Rajon] Rondo injury.
Because of Nate Robinson ?
Not only because of Nate, from what I’ve seen out of Delonte because that’s someone who can play point guard in a pinch and can bring the ball up. I think that last year if Rondo got hurt it was a disaster-you shut the season down. But I think they can at least get by for a couple weeks [without Rondo]. Pierce is the guy who they’d really feel it.
The other thing is we are in this part of the season where everyone is talking a big game, “this guy looks great and that guy has never felt better and this guy didn’t realize how injured he was and now he’s back.” But you know I want to see it with Garnett. He was so up and down in the playoffs; you know he looked great for two games and then all of sudden he looked like he was 48 years old and then he’d look good again. I just want to see if he has another 82 plus 20 [games] in the playoffs and you figure he misses 10, so he’s got to play another 90. And this is a guy who has 1,300 games on his odometer. He just might be on the other side of the mountain, that’s something else I’m going to be fascinated by.
Who comes out of the East? Who wins the NBA championship?
Listen, you guys know there have been times where I have written bad things about the Celtics, I’m usually trying to be rational when I think about them. I really think [the Celtics] are going to come out of the East. I don’t think that Miami’s ready yet. I don’t think that you can win a title with three guys. And I’m not sold on anyone else that they have on this team and I think that the Celtics match up with them.
I know the Celtics match up with Orlando. That’s the funniest thing, everyone has been talking about Orlando’s preseason record and Dwight Howard, he’s learned some post moves from Hakeem Olajuwon. Come on the Celtics killed them last year and they didn’t change one thing about them. They still have Vince Carter , I think the Celtics would roll through them in a series.
So it comes down to that seven games against Miami. You know Game 7 is going to be in Miami, so the question is can they beat them four times? I just think that [the Celtics] are much deeper. I would rather take my chances with twelve guys, with a deep bench and guys like Pierce and KG who have been there before and Ray Allen, over this Miami team that’s going to have so much pressure on it, I don’t know how they’re going to respond. I think it is a safer bet.
In the other conference, people think I’m crazy but I actually think that Oklahoma can make the finals, I really do. I read about this Lakers team, [Andrew] Bynum‘s already hurt, Kobe’s getting his knee drained. They’ve won two in a row. I think only two teams in the history of the league have ever made four straight finals. Which [for] the Lakers this would be their fourth straight final if they made it. It’s a tall order, a lot of things [have] to happen.
Even though it seems like a year early I could see Oklahoma, I could see maybe Utah. Like who knows, I would not pencil the Lakers in for that spot. But at the very least I can’t ever remember, since I’ve been writing my column, an NBA season that has generated more e-mails, more people talking to me, more people asking me what’s going to happen. It just seems like this is going to be the breakout year, and naturally it’s going to end with a lockout.