I've been a long time member of Celtics Blog and ever since it was moved to SB Nation, it's been blocked at work so I don't get a chance to post as much as I'd like. I do, however, read all of the stories and a lot of the comments. I wanted to share my thoughts on this season, the future, and my perception of the diehard fan base.
First off, I want to address a very hot and controversial topic: “The Trade”: I was one of the few (and I guess even more so now) that liked the trade then and am still OK with it now because I understand the idea of it back then, if that makes any sense. I disagree with the notion that the trade was a success if we hung banner 18 and a failure otherwise. It blows my mind to read so many comments like “we threw away a guaranteed championship”. Anybody who has watched this sport for a long time knows there are no guaranteed championships (though the 72-win Bulls might have been the closest in my lifetime). I will touch on that more later, but back to the trade. These are the factors that I feel pointed to the trade. Please note, that these have been well-documented and I have no illusion that I’m breaking any ground.
- The Celtics were at their best this year with a healthy Shaq. The Celtics raced out to the best record in the East and Shaq was a big part of that. Remember when Rondo was racking up all of those assists? I think lost in the shuffle is the fact that Rondo could penetrate the lane and dump off to a guy that could finish. How many times did/does Perk fumble the ball or take a dribble, pump-fake and wait for the defender to recover, and take a contested or blocked shot? Shaq cleared space down there and opened up the lane more effectively than Perk. While Shaq isn’t the positional defender that Perk is, he is a better shot blocker and rebounder. I found it mind-boggling that pundits were asking why we would make such a major trade while we had the best record in the East. Had they forgotten that Perk had played in only a handful of those games at the All-Star break?
- Losing Tony Allen and Marquis Daniels changed things. I don’t think Tony wanted to stay in Boston. I think he wanted a longer contract and more playing time. Looking back, now that we have Doc’s new strategy of playing reserves more in the regular season, more playing time was possible, but there is NO way that DA was giving more than a 2-year contract. Here’s the list of players signed to more than a 2-year deal: P2 and Rondo </list>. I've always liked Tony’s game and have disagreed with most on this board as to what he brings to the table. Doc’s reluctance to use the bench last year in Game 7 bothered me, especially since the starters were running on empty; though it was eased knowing we were putting our best out there and they would decide who won it. Tony’s job on Lebron and Kobe last year was severely underrated and I’m glad he got his exposure this year with the Grizzlies (even that took an injury to Rudy Gay). His loss, combined with the unfortunate and untimely injury to Marquis put us in a tough situation. People also seem to forget that Perk and Nate were hurt at the time of the trade, along with JO, Shaq, West, and Marquis. The trade gave us a healthy center and a desperately-needed wing player. The one position (yes, I know – it didn’t turn out this way) that we had some depth was at the 5, assuming the O’Neals could get healthy. Again, I understand that putting even half of your eggs in that basket was risky at best, foolhardy at worst. Yet, the truth is, DA was focusing on my next point.
- The emergence of the Miami Heat. The Heat became our main measuring stick overnight. They are who we thought they were. “The Decision” was so huge because of the huge power shift it brought about. I could write so much on that alone, but if you’re still with me, you’re glad that I’m not going to. With P2 getting up there in age (understatement), DA knew that he could no longer match Lebron on both ends of the court. The Paul from ’08 that put up 41 points and dueled Lebron in Game 7 doesn't exist anymore, and he’s not walking through that door ever again. Pierce was ineffective offensively last year against the Cavs because of all the energy we was expending on the defensive end. Rondo’s play (especially rebounding) combined with Lebron’s mini-meltdown allowed us to escape and move on. Marquis also did an underrated job guarding Lebron, but with him missing, it was vital that we picked up an athletic wing player that could stretch the floor and finish on the break. DA must have thought Green would improve defensively after quickly learning our system and trusting his teammates. Defensively, he was poor and he was even worse on the glass. Noted. However, I must go back to Shaq when talking about the Heat matchup. Miami could have still gotten away with small ball with Perk, because of his lack of offensive prowess. On the other hand, how does Miami get away with playing Joel Anthony at the 5 with Shaq in there? A semi-healthy Shaw would have eaten him alive to the point, I believe, where it would negate the advantage that their most effective lineup gave them. Green fit in better in that series on paper. Does that mean anything? Ultimately no – but I get it.
- Danny did not want to commit to Perk long term. As mentioned earlier, DA did not give away multi-year deals. He is obviously looking to 2012 – and with good reason. With a lockout looming and a strong FA class, it takes a lot of patience to think ahead and not panic trying to throw away your future for a title that isn't guaranteed (no matter what people like to tell themselves). I, personally, do not think Perk is worth a 4-year $35 million deal. He was a phenomenal value for all that he brought to the table, though I never bought him as a building block for the future. He doesn't particularly mesh well with Rondo because you are (almost) playing 3 on 5 on the offensive end. I break it down like this: Perk was never going to be 100% healthy this year (our all-in year according to some), DA did not want to overpay for him in the future, so he might as well take a chance on somebody that he didn't mind possibly giving a long term deal. Perk was walking, not because he didn't want to be a Celtic, but because DA wasn't going to give him what he felt he deserved. If we don’t resign Green, people will say that we gave up our shot to win this year for nothing. I disagree with that sentiment, mostly because of reason #3. Would we have beat Miami with Perk? I don’t believe we would have, but I can respect those that disagree. We haven’t even started to talk about Chicago, either. I thought we matched up with them better, but with or without Perk, they have a clear advantage on the boards, an unstoppable force in Rose, and play the type of defense we've been accustomed to seeing our own play.
Now, I understand that this is, probably unnecessarily, longwinded – however I hate having to point out Perks’ flaws. There are few bigger fans of Perk than myself. He represented everything that you wanted in a Celtic. He was tough, hard-working, and selfless. The impact he had on our chemistry is undeniable. Were we a better team after the trade? I don’t think so, despite what was written above. However, I think the media and fans alike overreacted and our inability to get past Miami only added fuel to that fire. I think one of the best examples I can think of to why Perk all of a sudden went from underrated to overrated overnight is the ’09 Chicago series. Does everyone remember how high-scoring those games were and how easily the Bulls were able to get to the cup and score? Perk played that series, KG did not. It is undeniable that Perk benefited greatly by playing alongside one of the greatest defensive forces in the history of the game. When Perk got traded, we did not see the same defensive drop off.
With that being said, what do we do now? DA gambled on Shaq’s health and lost. However, he did keep our future cap flexibility intact in an uncertain environment and also came away with a 1st round pick. But how do we change this roster to a team that can compete for a title? As long as the Big 3 exist in their current state, anything less than a title is going to be a failure. Well, our strength is also our greatest handicap. We look good on the books for 2012, though next year isn’t 2012. DA needs to find a way to keep some flexibility while adding younger, more athletic pieces to complement the Big 3. This can only happen with a major trade. We aren’t even sure if the MLE is going to exist, be as high, be split among multiple players, anything. Hard cap? Who knows. DA did a fantastic job getting veterans to sign at reasonable cost to provide depth and not throw chemistry off because these types of players have had their days as option 1 and were ready to defer stats in order to win in June. Both Doc and Danny admit that this formula didn’t work this year and won’t work next year either. Here is my evaluation of the roster as it looks today:
Big 3 – Ray, Paul, KG. The two with the greatest likelihood of being traded are Ray and KG. All contending teams can use a shooter like Ray, and KG’s salary comes off the books after this year. P2 will most likely be a Celtic for life and deservedly so. While I would understand a trade, I hope it doesn’t happen. It’s sentimental yes, but this group brought a title to Boston. More on that sentiment later.
The Expendables – Arroyo, Murphy, Pavlovic, Wafer. Boy was I wrong about Murph. As I heard the details of the trade along with the subsequent trading of Erden, I thought to myself, “We better get Murphy or this makes zero sense”. Well, we did – and it turned out that it really didn’t help out in that category. The guy is underrated as an athlete, I thought I remembered him being able to shoot (though you would have never guessed it), but I don’t buy the whole “he didn’t get a chance to get into shape” argument. I don’t care if you are riding the bench. You keep yourself ready to make an impact when given the opportunity. Roster spots are valuable (and may become even more valuable next year) so I consider that chance blown. Wafer played better than expected and well enough to get another job in this league, I believe, but I don’t think he has enough to contribute to a title-contending team. I think the game vs. the Wizards at the end of the year (his first start) showed that. Let’s just say he did his best “Bad Tony Allen” impersonation. Would I have rather seen DA give Pavolvic a try instead of trading Perk? Perhaps, though there is no doubt that Green is the greater talent. Still not sure why they made such a big push to pick him up and never utilize him, however. He seems like the kind of guy that could have gotten under Lebron’s skin and gave us 10 minutes. Arroyo just doesn’t have the foot speed anymore, and that was his greatest attribute. I’ll still never forget how he blew past American defenders in 2004.
Sign ‘Em Up – West, Green, Kristic. I was always excited about the West pickup this year. I think he has starter talent and was always one of my favorite players pre-Big 3. Nobody played harder vs. the He
at (his defense on Wade at the end of Game 5 was inspiring), he can shoot, and knows Doc’s system. He held his personal life together and fought off injuries this year. If he’s willing to take a decent deal, he’s a definite keeper. Jeff Green showed flashes of what he could be. He can run the break with the best of them and found some consistency from deep in the playoffs. He needs to improve his team defense and it seems like he walked into a few too many glass doors in his lifetime which gave him a health fear of the glass, though I think he has the talent to grow in Doc’s system. Again, he has to be willing to take a reasonable deal. If not, someone will probably overpay him and we have nothing to show for the trade. I’ll put my fingers into my ears and pretend that Perk just decided to sign in OKC as a FA if that happens. While Curly does nothing to blow me away, how many big men are going to be out there? He can shoot, started to understand how to show on pick and rolls during the playoffs, and seems to work hard out there. Sounds like a perfect match for a vet min to me.
The Maybes – JO, Bradley, Shaq. Nobody is going to trade for JO with the contract that he has, he played well defensively, and only has one more year on his deal. We could do worse. JO was really just brought in as insurance with Perk and Shaq in the fold so it was never really fair to him to expect starting productivity. I believe he showed a lot of heart bypassing surgery and working hard to contribute to the team. He has my respect. Avery? I, admittedly, am no expert on his game. All I know is that DA obviously likes him – he’s stuck around. However, he looks totally lost on the offensive end. He has absolutely no court vision, and seems to dribble with his head down whether he’s going to the hole or cruising past half court. His strengths are playing solid D and being able (supposedly) to knock down open jumpers. I’m not opposed to giving him another year, though I’d rather see if we can get something for him or filling the spot at another position if he’s not going to be utilized again next year. Shaq? I can see the eyes rolling right now. I think he retires; I think he should retire. However, he made the maybe list because I’m not opposed to him pulling a PJ Brown and trying to make a playoff run. The man has accomplished too much in this league to go out like that, and he was never the distraction (personally, obviously the injury speculation is a different story) to the team as some had predicted. His teammates seemed to love him and his impact was undeniable on the court. It says “maybe” for a reason!
You’re Dead to Me – Glen Davis. This is probably the most controversial category and player. He was unbelievable in the first half of the season and his last deal was reasonable. However, and it’s a BIG however – you can NOT gain 15 pounds before the playoffs start when your team is struggling with depth issues in the front court. That was the biggest “eff you” he could have given management, his teammates, and fans – especially in a contract year. We can argue the pros and cons of this game, though I find that unacceptable. That move was the anti-Perk and represented all the reasons it’s so hard to see Perk in another uniform. Trade him, let him walk, I don’t care – I’m done.
I’ll close with just a couple more thoughts. There has been much speculation about what the Celtics possible moves could be – waiting for Dwight, CP3 in 2012, trading Rondo, trading part of the Big 3, etc. I think one of the ideas that’s crazy but not as crazy as people make it out to be is trading Rondo for someone like Chris Paul to attract Dwight in 2012. My reasoning is as follows: everyone talks about trading Rondo as if it’s that easy. Rondo is a top-flight PG and it would be very hard to get value for him. He’s more valuable to this team than he is to 29 other teams. However, if New Orleans gets into a Carmelo situation, there are very few teams that have another PG to offer as consolation. Rajon is my favorite player, so I’d be crushed. But if you could land something like that, you would live with it. Trades like that only happen when a franchise has no other choice. Please, no more talk of players like Derrick Rose. Who would do that? It would also hurt to see the Big 3 broken up. This brings me to the “more on that later” and final section.
I was 7 years old when the Celtics won Banner 16. My Dad was a lifelong Celtics fan and basketball was my favorite sport. There were few things I loved in life more than my Celtics. Dennis Johnson (hence my screen name) was my favorite player and also had all of the qualities that you wanted in a Celtic. The following 20 years was indescribable. A franchise as great as the Celtics should never go that long without a championship. I grew up in Virginia (there are no professional sports teams in our state) and it was hard growing up a Celtics fans. Since we didn’t have a home team, many people jumped on the Pistons, then Bulls bandwagon. I remember getting so excited that Sherman Douglas got us to the playoffs and I got to watch my favorite team on TV. I’m not sure of the ages of people that comment on here, but I’m still blown away when I read about ‘guaranteed championships’ and how big of a failure ’09-’11 was. For recent examples, just ask the Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns about what-could-have-beens. This team was never guaranteed a championship. For every KG, Perk, or Rondo injury, a team can point to something similar. We get tired of Laker fans talking about Bynum, but the 2 championships were the proof and the Magic and our beloved Celtics were the pudding. I’ll be forever grateful for the Big 3, DA, Doc and everything that ’07-’08 team brought us. Those 21 years of irrelevance and my maturation allowed me to appreciate it properly and I’m also thankful for that. A quick glance at the recent champions, it appears that about 8 teams have won the title since 1980. I bet some of the same people that were angered over Lebron proclaiming 7 championships proclaim that we traded away one guaranteed banner. That’s the easy way out. We should try and be a bit more like JO (working hard to get back instead of taking his money and running) and less like Mr. Glen Davis (I admit, I like pancakes more than the gym, but I don’t get paid millions for playing for the greatest franchise in the NBA).