What else can you say about the Celtics at this point? Thus far, they have been a big disappointment. Period.
Even if you take the last two embarrassing losses out, they haven't been performing like we thought they would at the beginning of the year. Sure, the title isn't won in February. Yes, there's plenty of time left and the proverbial "anything can happen" still applies. No, I'm not giving up hope or totally losing faith.
I am, however, fully ready to say that something is broken with the Celtics and if it doesn't get fixed soon, we'll most likely be witnessing the closing of the championship window that we signed up for in 2008. (If so, no complaints by the way. That title the first year makes it all worth it.)
So we are left trying to figure out why it is broken. Can we point to age and injuries, effectively chalking it up to fate and bad luck? Perhaps partially. But early 30's is typically the end of a player's prime, not necessarily the end of their career. And even when the team has been mostly healthy this year, they have underperformed. Besides, good teams manage to win despite injuries (including last year's team - for a while at least). So I'm not giving the "wait till they are healthy" free pass anymore.
I'm pulling out the Gilbert Arenas finger pistols and pointing the blame at the people I think are most responsible for the disappointing season (thus far). In no particular order:
Danny Ainge: I'm a big believer in the fact that the players win basketball games, not coaches. Therefore, the coach needs to be given the right players to win with. So while Ainge gets a free pass in terms of job security (for hand delivering Banner 17 to Boston), I think he must share the blame here. Using a cooking analogy, if the ingredients are good - like in 2008, it is much easier to prepare a great tasting meal. If the ingredients have become stale or mismatched, it becomes very hard to cook up a winner.
Hindsight is 20/20 so this is not really fair, but looking back it appears that the Sheed signing was a mistake. (If you like you can review my waffling stances where I was against the trade and then talked myself into it after the fact) The sad thing is that Sheed could have been a perfect fit. If only he would play on the blocks more and come into camp in shape and motivated. However, Ainge should have known that he would not play on the blocks much and that he has been unmotivated for the last several years. Changing addresses, as it turns out, didn't change any of that.
In addition, he failed to get someone to bite on Ray Allen in the offseason. I wasn't a fan of trading him during the year, but in the offseason we could have gotten pretty good value for him and developed some chemistry with a younger piece or two throughout the year. He got Rondo locked up, so hats off to him for that. But so far, he hasn't been able to inject new life into the team.
Doc Rivers: You didn't think he'd get off the hook did ya? Borrowing the analogy from above, good cooks can take less than ideal ingredients and still come up with something pretty good to eat. Doc has never been known as a great in-game manager. He's always relied more on developing a rapport with his players and managing egos. He got everyone to buy into the Ubuntu script in 2008 and that is one of the big, big reasons why the team was able to win the title. That Ubuntu movement shielded the team from attacks from the outside and protected them from internal strife.
However, we've begun to see cracks in that shield over the last year or so. We only hear hints of it, and maybe that's all there is to it, but maybe there's a lot more to it. There very well might be some chemistry issues that Doc has not been able to manage. Sometimes that's beyond his control, and it isn't necessarily fair to blame Doc for what the players may or may not be feeling. But if Doc's forte is getting everyone on the same page and they aren't on the same page, then he can't entirely escape blame either.
The Players: I can't pinpoint any one player that could possibly be to blame for the issues, but they all must share in the blame here. I'm getting a little tired of hearing about how the team is leading the league in points against. There is such a thing as timely defense. If you hold a team to 85 points but can't stop them on the last 3 possessions and end up losing 84 to 85, then what good is your league leading defense?
Of course, that wouldn't be much of an issue if we could score 90 or 95 points and win going away. The careless turnovers don't help. Letting the shot clock wind down to single digits and hoisting up a desperation heave has the same effect as a turnover. Losing the rebounding battle does as well. We have talented offensive players, but for some reason they aren't getting the job done this year. The rebounding issue in particular bothers me because we have 3 big men who can and should be able to excel on the boards and they simply haven't done the job.
In general, this team simply has lost the focus, desire, and trust in each other that is necessary to win basketball games. There is still time. There is still hope. But the time for talking about it is long gone. They have to prove it on the court. They've failed in too many "statement" games. They've had too many "eye opening" and "gut punching" losses. Either they'll figure it out soon, or they'll be headed home early again. And who knows when the next window will open?