I know I haven't been a member of this community for very long and some of you may find my credibility suspect, so here's some quick info on me. I've been an avid fan of the Celtics since the 80's, and was a regular poster on espn's boards dating back to ~2001 including a stint as moderator. In short, I'm not new to the team or to message board participation, so I hope you can overlook my post count and chime in with your thoughts. Also, be warned now that this is a very long and wide-ranging post, so if you're a "TLDR" person, you'll want to skip it.
1st point -- the preamble: The current state of affairs (with aging stars) was a necessary trade-off for our championship in 2008 and our near-championship in 2010. It's easy to forget that we were 1 win away from a second title with this group just 2 years ago because so much has happened since then, but it's not fair to be completely disgruntled over the roster today, because we all knew it was coming at some point and we had to do it to win the title in 2008.
*A sub-point: Did the Perkins trade work out? Clearly not, but how was Ainge supposed to predict that Green would have an aortic aneurysm and miss the 2012 season? And apparently the decision had been made not to pay Perkins the ~$40 million over 4 years he was valued at, so they tried to at least get something for him. Regardless, there's no reason to believe we would have done any better with Perk last year than we did without him. The signs that our core didn't have enough in the tank were already visible.
2nd point -- the season at hand: This season has been a disappointment so far and for good reason. KG is in his 17th season, Ray Allen and Jermaine O'Neal are in their 16th season, and Pierce is in his 14th season. That's crazy for 4 of your 5 starters. To expect this team to keep up with Miami, Chicago, Orlando or even Atlanta, Indiana and Philadelphia is a stretch. We're too freaking old and we know it -- or at least the front office does. We can't get to the line and we've only got a couple of guys who can create shots for themselves or teammates (Rondo and Pierce). Every now and then one of our aging vets will have a turn-back-the-clock performance (like Pierce's yesterday against Washington) but no way can they keep it up for a full year at this point.
So how did this happen so fast? First off Jeff Green was a last minute scratch for the season, which means that Pierce, Ray and KG all have to play more minutes than expected. Second, David West decided to go to Indiana (more minutes for Pierce and especially KG) and third, there's something to be said for the compressed schedule and everyone's suspect fitness level. In any event, we are what we are, so we just have to deal with it.
3rd point -- looking at the roster: So what are we? An incredibly quick PG who is an excellent passer and can get to the basket. A great 3 point shooter who brings little else at this stage in his career. A versatile small forward who plays at his own speed and still has some greatness left. A power forward who has lost two steps and a few inches on his vertical, and a center who is an average rebounder and shot blocker and nothing more. On the bench we've got a solid swingman who can shoot the 3 and defend reasonably well (Pietrus), a backup 4 who can shoot and rebound (Bass), a journeyman career backup PG (Dooling), a raw 2nd year guard who is a good-but-not-great on the ball defender and has serious holes in his game (Bradley), a few other veterans with minimal value (Daniels, Wilcox, Pavlovic) and a few young players that our coaching staff doesn't seem real interested in developing (Stiemsma, Moore, Johnson). Yikes.
We've got a coach who believes that if we pass the ball around the perimeter enough times we're going to get an open shot, and that we can still defend at a high level. He also clearly prefers consistent veterans over young players who might be up one day and down the next.
4th point -- what's our identity?: Let's start with what we're not. We're not a gritty defensive team, we're not a fast break team, we're not a high scoring team, we're not rebounding/second chance team, and we're not a team that gets to the line. If we look at ourselves honestly, we're a jump shooting team that doesn't rebound or defend very well. I wish it wasn't true, but look at the roster again and I don't know what else you're left with. We need a new identity, and one that has a chance of winning in the playoffs, because I've never heard of a team that had success with our current identity.
The moves made in the offseason would lead you to believe we're building a gritty, experienced, defensive team that outworks and outsmarts the opposition. That might be the case against Washington, Detroit and New Jersey, but it won't cut it against the top ~6 teams in the East. Rondo is our best player. I'd like to see us build around his strengths (fast break offense, attack before the D it set, force turnovers, wear teams down) rather than the strengths of the guys who are nearing the end of their careers.
5th point -- a new identity: Look at the roster and figure out which guys fit that identity. I'd say Rondo, Pierce, Pietrus, Bass, Bradley, Wilcox, Stiemsma, Moore and Johnson can all play that style. That's 9 guys -- in other words we don't have to flip the entire roster to make this happen. The guys who fall out are KG, O'Neal, Ray, Dooling, Daniels and Pavlovic. The latter 3 guys you can just put on the end of the rotation and no one would even blink an eye. That leaves KG, Ray and O'Neal as the 3 guys I'd be looking to move if any value is out there.
Would we win any more games if we played a starting 5 of Rondo/Pietrus/Pierce/Bass/Wilcox with Stiemsma, Moore, Bradley and Johnson coming off the bench? Maybe not, but we're note exactly on track to win a title right now, and at least we'd be moving in a direction that has a chance of being successful longer term while figuring out what we have with our young talent. Second, we'd ideally be able to get some decent players in return for the 6 guys who don't fit the new identity. What's more, free agents like to play the uptempo style. If we gave guys the opportunity to play with Rondo in a fast break system I think we'd be able to attract more free agents to Boston.
6th point -- filling holes: I'm not going to sidetrack this post by going into 20 different trade scenarios, but I will identify a few types of players I'd like to see the Celtics target.
#1 - An athletic big man who can run the court, finish in the paint, and block shots. Josh Smith is sort of the ideal scenario but I think there's some lesser-name talent that could fill a role like this (someone like Anthony Randolph or even an Ekpe Udoh for example).
#2 - Another guy like Pietrus who can run the floor, defend the perimeter and hit 3s. Again, a big name isn't required and perhaps someone like Dorrell Wright, Nicolas Batum, CJ Miles, or even a guy like Courtney Lee could fit the bill.
#3 - A guy who can come off the bench and lead the 2nd unit offensively. Randy Foye from the Clippers might be an example, as he seems to be more expendable following the Chris Paul acquisition. Ben Gordon could work, although his salary is fairly ridiculous.
7th point -- leadership and coaching: The team we have today is the team Doc seems to want to coach. This is a problem. Trying to get 110% out of a group of veterans and grind out a 7 or 8 seed only to be eliminated and potentially embarrassed in the 1st round of the playoffs is a crappy way to spend the next few months.
Doc talks about the young guys in a condescending manner. The story about making Stiemsma stand in front of the team and say "I'm a shooter" repeatedly is absurd. If you want to build young guys' confidence, treat them the same as any other player. Do you think the Patriots and Belichick treat their young guys like that? No way -- they have the same expectations as everyone else, and the staff challenges them to step up.
People want to criticize Ainge's drafting over the past few years, but the reality is that Doc won't even give young guys a chance and pushes for veteran players over younger ones every time. I don't think Doc wants to develop talent -- he just wants to plug in proven commodities, preach the same approach year after year and expect things to work out. Good coaches cater their system to the talent on the roster -- they don't try to force square pegs into round holes.
Finally, it's not all Doc's fault. I think the vets need to step up and lead the young players, help them to develop, and acknowledge that they aren't going to be running the show forever. I'd love to see Rondo become co-captain alongside Pierce, and really start to take ownership of this team.
8th point -- the status quo: If what I suggest above is seen as "blowing it up" then so be it, but that's not how it feels to me. It's rebuilding around your best player, and coming up with an identity for this team that can be successful. Continuing to do what worked a few years ago (with different and young personnel) just because it's would cause less of a stir doesn't make sense. I think that's the source of frustration for most fans and definitely for me. Doc seems to believe that we don't need to change anything -- just play better and the results will come. Sorry, but after 15 games (close to a quarter of the shortened season) a sudden turnaround would be a pretty amazing sequence of events. It's never easy making big changes, but I think it would be a mistake to maintain the status quo and just hope that we improve.
9th point -- what comes next?: Provided we continue to play the way we've been playing, I think management needs to sit down with Ainge and Doc and have these hard discussions. Soon. Doc needs to decide if he wants to be part of rebuilding this franchise, developing talent, and changing the style of play. Ainge needs to start looking to turn over part of the roster and bringing in players who can contribute in an uptempo style, and potentially find a replacement for Doc if he chooses to move on.
Ainge and Doc need to sit down and have honest and upfront discussions with the players as a group and individually about these changes. The players might not like it, but they need to be reminded that they're employees of a company, and their job is to help make it successful, even if that means doing things they don't necessarily agree with. That's part of the responsibility that comes with making big $$, and if they can't handle it, oh well.
10th point - a new beginning: If we can turn the corner on some of these changes I'm actually very excited about the prospects for this team. Even if we don't make any blockbuster trades for KG or Ray we're going to have a bunch of cap room next year, and if we identify the right free agent talent and draft effectively, the Celtics can be back in the mix as early as next year. Let's get back to running the floor, outworking teams and getting to the basket. Let's get the crowd excited and involved again. Let's energize the fan base and build some optimism about the future. We're really not that far away, so let's get started.
No matter what, I'll be there watching and rooting for my team. Celtics fan for life!
I'd love to hear the Celticsblog community's thoughts on this.