As the seconds trickled off of the clock inside the TD Garden in Boston on Friday night it became heavily apparent that the wheels are beginning to lose their bolts on the Celtics bandwagon. The season is still young, but the 4-6 Celtics have shown little competence in situations where it has mattered most (crunch time situations, lead trimmed down to just a few), and are beginning to play consistently bad enough to make fans wonder if it's already time for something to be done with the roster. The question remains to be answered, but the immediate answer is simple: in Danny Ainge we trust.
For years Danny Ainge tried to position Boston as a team poised to return to the glory days -- years of winning seasons, conference domination, and NBA titles. And for all intents and purposes, Danny Ainge was successful in doing this in Boston. He brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to surround Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, and the Celtics brought its 17th NBA Championship back to Boston in 2008. The C's even returned to the Finals in 2009-2010 and came within a quarter of winning "Banner 18", but fell short due to some untimely injuries and struggles. Ainge consistently has given Doc Rivers and his coaching staff the type of players he needs to get the Celtics to work the way that made them successful in years past.
More after the poll and break.And then there was 2011. Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green. Celtics fans were beside themselves. So was Rajon Rondo (and assumedly many other players on the Celtics roster). Ainge backed up his decision to move Perkins, and he stood behind his choice wholeheartedly. Then gain, why wouldn't he. What else is he going to say? "I made a mistake as a leader of this organization." No. Ainge had full confidence in the fact that as the C's core group began to age that the C's would need to become younger and more athletic in order to compete with the rest of the league. His mindset is righteous. It makes sense. But injuries and other woes plagued the 2011 team, and they lost to Miami in the second round of the playoffs.
So here we are -- the lockout shortened, 66-games-in-124-days 2011-2012 season. The Celtics are 4-6 and are struggling. When I think about it, though, I don't believe it is the fact that the C's are struggling that frustrates Boston fans. Struggles have become a norm as the "Big Three" have begun aging quite rapidly. What is alarming is the way the Celtics are struggling. The C's are struggling in areas and in ways that are completely uncharacteristic of past Celtics squads. Granted, the past Celtics squads never had to deal with only having two weeks of training camp, two preseason games, and an overwhelmingly long lockout that delayed the start of the season.
Still, scoring in pivotal moments has not been something that has plagued Boston in years past. It's a trait that goes hand-in-hand with being a good and elite team in the NBA. If you are to be considered a top team in the league, then you most likely have the propensity to score in the clutch. The Celtics so far have had numerous chances this season to capitalize on these opportunities, and just about every single time they have failed. On Christmas Day the C's fought back against the Knicks, but there was no one who was quite able to score to put the C's over the hump. Against the Heat the C's had to fight all the way back into the game, but they just couldn't finish the deal after Keyon Dooling welcomed himself to Boston and cut the Miami deficit to 3 in the fourth quarter. Indiana provided another scenario comparable to these other games, but again, Boston couldn't score enough to finish the job. On Friday night, Boston trailed by 20 points at one point and time. The Garden was silent. But a huge run (and a seemingly random surge of energy) pushed the Celtics to within one point of the mighty Chicago Bulls. In the end it just wasn't enough. The C's crumbled, the offense grew stagnant, and the loss column gained another number.
With these problems have been the usual questions.
- Should Doc sit Pierce until he's completely healthy (given that health is the issue with Paul)?
- Should Danny blow things up, and go ahead and focus on rebuilding Boston from the ground up?
- Are the offensive woes simply a byproduct of the fact that Paul Pierce seems out of shape at a very inopportune time during the C's schedule?
- Are we finally just too old?
All of these questions are valid. As a fan it is your right to be concerned. Pierce does seem out of shape. Danny does need to consider his options, but he's already said that he will be doing this if the pattern of losing continues. Honestly, if health were an issue with Pierce I don't think he'd be playing. Regardless of the fact that the season is shortened, Doc has always been a firm believer in the "long term success over short term success" line of thinking (see: Rivers sitting numerous players for quite a few games last year to attempt to have a healthy team in time for the playoffs.). And lastly, yes, the team is looking very old. At the same time, older players are going to (always) need more time to get into shape and into a rhythm as their bodies adjust to the rigors of this shortened season. If there truly is anything valuable left in the tank for this core of Hall-of-Fame guys, then we will begin to see the tide begin to turn for Boston in the coming weeks.
These uncertainties pose many questions, and Celtics fans all across the nation will be questioning this team and the front office for weeks to come. Danny Ainge has options. He can decide to make a few roster moves, and he could see if anyone else in the NBA would trade some budding stars or promising youth for NBA legends like Garnett or Allen. Or he could try to move Rondo as he has in the past. The problem is simply that there doesn't seem to be many viable trade options for Rajon. (Note: This is not my endorsement of a Rajon Rondo trade. I'm simply stating what could be some of Danny's bevy of options.)
Ainge also has a chance to land a future star in this year's draft. Boston has a top-10 protected pick from the Clippers in what seems to look like a very deep draft class. Does Ainge want to lock in a few of the vets after this season, move around the bench, and shape another team around an 18 or 19 year old? Maybe so. Regardless of his decisions, though, Boston fans have only a few choices as the Celtics sit at 4-6. This team is going to get better as the season progresses, and players return to game-shape (and are finally healthy).
This season more than any other is the time for Boston fans to appreciate each and every victory, and trust in their fearless leader. Danny Ainge has done everything within his power up to this point to make the Celtics competitive with three aging stars as the leaders of the team. Now, as those aging stars begin to walk out of the limelight it is time to renew trust in the man who helped assemble the squad that produced two NBA Finals trips and one NBA Championship. Times may be rough, the goings may be tough, but at the end of the day -- in Danny we trust.