A common refrain by optimistic Celtics fans is "hey, we struggled at the beginning of last year and it ended up alright."
Ok, sure. That's a true statement. And as a card carrying member of the Optimistic Die Hards Club, I'm holding onto that statement like a child to his binky. After all, we were 13-10 after 23 games last year and we are 12-11 this year and a bounce of the ball one way or the other would put us right on the same pace.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean it will turn out the same way this year. In fact, there's at least 3 reasons that I can think of that it might not. So forgive my trip down pessimism lane.
1. Obviously there's no lockout shortened schedule. This was a huge drawback for the team because they didn't have time to rest between games and they didn't have time to practice and correct things that were going wrong. The team doesn't have that excuse. A few of the stars are old, so you could excuse them for not always playing well on back to backs. But the majority of the team is young enough that this shouldn't matter. They've had ample time to work on things (like, say, defense) and for whatever reason it hasn't clicked yet.
2. The team is largely healthy. Last year we didn't have Paul Pierce for the first 3 games (all losses) and he was hobbled and out of shape for much of the first month. Jeff Green's season ended before it ever got started and the team didn't have much of a plan B. Chris Wilcox only got a few healthy weeks in before he had to end his season as well. Yes, this year's squad has been without Avery Bradley, a starter and difference maker on last year's team. But Courtney Lee has provided some very good defense from the 2 guard spot (though perhaps not as disruptive as Avery would be). Everyone else has a clean bill of health and they aren't getting the job done thus far.
3. Last year's team was streaky. This one is inconsistent. This is a subtle difference, but I think it is worth noting. At this point last year the Celtics had a pair of 4 game winning streaks and were in the middle of a 5 game streak. Of course that means they also had 3 and 5 game losing streaks. This year's team has only one 3 game winning streak and seems to be in a repeating cycle of 2 steps forward, 2 steps back. That's disconcerting because it seems like they aren't "getting" it and maintaining momentum.
Once again, I'll have to point out that I can't wait to see Avery Bradley on the court and I hold out hope that he'll be the spark that this team needs to have everything click into place. But I can't count on that. The problems this team has go beyond what one individual can change all by himself.
If they are going to turn the corner and play like the team we've all come to know and love (despite having few of the players that have played like that over the years) it is going to take some serious step-up performances from a lot of guys and a whole lot of team cohesiveness. Basically we have an urgent need for some ubuntu.
Update: Oh yeah. I suppose I need to mention Ray Allen here somewhere. So, there, I mentioned him. Moving on.