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As 2012 comes to a close it is mandatory that we look back at the year that was. It is a rule, trust me.
Looking back over the last year, one thing has struck me. We've been through all this before. Hopefully the team can once again turn things around like they did last year. But for now, the rumors are coming fast and furious and they'll only increase over the next several weeks.
With all that said, if you were another NBA team looking to rebuild and you had a player that the Celtics wanted, who are the two guys that you'd ask for in return? The first two names you'd highlight would be Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. They represent the kind of high upside that teams crave but of course that's also why we'd want to hold on to them.
So things appear to be looking up for Jeff Green. But he was looking pretty good in preseason as well before taking two steps back in the beginning of the season. So fool me once... The question has to be asked, is this the real Jeff Green or is he going to be inconsistent all year long?
In terms of those 108 offseason signees who become trade-eligible Saturday, at least three names are coming up repeatedly on the personnel grapevine: Indiana's D.J. Augustin, Phoenix's Michael Beasley and Boston's Courtney Lee. There's a reason for that, though: All three are seriously struggling.
And with Jason Terry in tow and Avery Bradley close to making his return from shoulder surgeries in the summer, the Celtics -- looking hard for one more big man -- have one off-guard too many.
The praise that the coach and GM give Collins is also a not-so-veiled swipe at some other players on the team. Wilcox got a DNP-CD that night. Jeff Green saw his minutes reduced to 14. And other players have to sit up and take notice as well.
When Doc Rivers inserted Jason Collins into the starting lineup, it signaled the official transition away from the team's small-ball oriented attack. Danny Ainge's comments on Weei this week further emphasized this shift in philosophy, while shedding some light on the reasoning behind it.
On Saturday night, Melo broke through in a major way. The Red Claws took on the Erie BayHawks and what transpired on the court for the young big man should only help his confidence as he continues to develop. Melo scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, recorded 16 rebounds (8 of them on the offensive glass, 8 of them on the defensive glass) and blocked 14 shots in nearly 37 minutes of action. Those 14 blocked shots are a NBA Development League record.
Another season, another slow start. But at least we had Rondo's streak to talk about... for a while.
The Celtics will defend better. They pride themselves on defense and it has always been their identity. It will always be their identity as long as Kevin Garnett is running up and down that court. But with so many new faces, they have to integrate that defense better.
You know that Kevin Garnett can't be happy with the aggression and effort put forth in the Celtics two losses. So he called a meeting with the players before the coaches addressed the team and came up with another classic KG analogy.
He still needs 7 more games to pass John Stockton's 37 game streak back in 1989 and Magic Johnson sits on top of the all time streak list with 44 games between the '83 and '84 seasons.
Headed into the 4th quarter, the only thing that was left to watch was Rajon Rondo's assist numbers. Could he keep his streak of 10 assists or more alive? If so, how far would the team go to make that happen? At what point was it no longer just playing for pride and in fact playing to pad his stats?
The Celtics finally got back to playing basketball.
The Celtics are a brick wall on defense. Year in, year out they are ranked at the top of the league in any defensive metric. They stifle their opponents with great rotations, communication, and killer execution. Then they get the ball and walk... slowly.... up the court. You almost get a sense that they'd rather still be playing defense.
Doc has put on a premium on running the ball and scoring in transition this season and it sounds like today's workout at Waltham utilized the team's versatility that we've been excited about all summer:
That's a lot of turnover for a team that has championship hopes. So you can understand why Doc Rivers is preaching patience. Even though this team is deeper and more talented than they were at the end of last year, they still have to figure out their rotations and roles to be successful.
Go right down the roster: Playing alongside or backing up Rondo is a list of 5 combo guards, 3 or 4 of whom could be starting on most teams. Pierce finally has a reliable backup 3 in Green, who is good enough that Doc will need to find ways to use him as a 4 as well. Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett return as the frontcourt starters for now. But backing them up are Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox, and Darko Milicic (a first round steal and two potential bargains at the vet min. each). You can also toss in Jason Collins when you need 6 fouls and a big defensive body.
Things started picking up in September as folks started getting excited about another year of Celtics basketball.
This is the the year that almost never was. The team could have decided that enough was enough and gone their separate ways (well, one guy did, but we'll get to that). Going back even further, just 6 months ago everyone was ready to blow this thing sky high. Everyone was ready to call an end to the era.
Garnett's reasons for coming back: "Doc Rivers # 1, the fans # 2, the chanting from the fans (at the end of Game 6), and friends and family who wanted me to continue." Regarding Ray Allen: "I don't have Ray's number anymore. I'm not trying to communicate. I'm just being honest."
The way I justify it in my head is that he's really only overpaid by a 3 or 4 million. When you take into account that Rondo is underpaid by at least that much (he's worth the max and then some) and Kevin Garnett could have gotten more on the open market, we aren't doing too bad at all.
There was even a lot made out of 3 guys that didn't' last long on the team.
Barring another substantive signing before camp, this battle likely comes down to Jamar Smith and Dionte Christmas - but you never know who might wow the team in training camp. Nobody thought Greg Stiemsma had much of a shot until he showed up at camp and started blocking everyone in sight.
According to Serbian newspaper Novosti.rs and now A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE, former Piston, Magic, Grizzly, Knick, and Timberwolf Darko Milicic is headed back to the United States and rumored to be negotiating a deal with the Boston Celtics.
And in case anyone missed it, the Celtics had one team in their sights.
Honestly, I don't care about the Lakers...I have my eye squarely on Miami. I come up to my players during the year-they're in the facility now-I bring up Miami every single day to them. I want them to hate them. I want them to beat them. That's gotta be our focus.
When Ray Allen exited stage left, the team became Rajon Rondo's. The Big 3 era was over, and it was time for Rondo to lead.
Doc's comments taking the blame for Ray Allen's departure were very much intended to take the heat (pun kinda intended) off of Rajon Rondo. It also signals a clear message that this is Rajon's team now. Doc stressed that he gave the ball to Rondo more and more and the team clearly benefited from it, even if Ray didn't as an individual.
I think it would be hard sell nationwide, especially if Rondo is still scoring under 20 points per game. In fact, even locally there's still some debate over who is the MVP on the team, never mind the league. Still, he's a guy that has that kind of transcendent upside. So I would never bet against him.
But the challenge for the next season was clear.
Here's the thing though. As much as I bleed green and think and hope for the best, ...I also feel like the Heat are the "favorites" to win it all again. They have the most talented starting 5, they beat the Celtics (pretty convincingly at times) two years in a row, they added Ray Allen, and are the defending champs. And yeah, LeBron's getting better, as much as it pains me to say it.
Meanwhile, CelticsBlog was treated with an exclusive (and great) interview with Jeff Green.
"The surgery itself was probably the hardest thing I've ever been through in my life. I had to start from, basically, double scratch. Walking was an issue -- just being able to have the stamina was a problem. Everything just kind of shuts down. The nervous system breaks down, and it's kinda like a jump-start. You have to get it going, and it was just difficult.
Wow. Not sure what else to say at this point regarding Ray Allen not only leaving but going to the Miami Heat. I'm sure the thoughts and emotions will work themselves out in the coming days/weeks/months but for now all I can say is wow.
So the Celtics moved on.
I don't think Danny Ainge intended for Jason Terry to be a backup plan. He wanted both Ray Allen and Jason Terry on the same team. Of course it didn't work out that way, but as it turns out, things ended up working out pretty well anyway once Courtney Lee was signed and traded for.
Meanwhile, the Celtics believe they're "close," as one source put it, to reaching agreement on a new deal with Green, who missed all of last season after undergoing open-heart surgery in December to repair an aortic aneurysm.
I took the rest of the offseason to make the Green deal official, but they hammered it out and I thought all was done pretty well.
Danny Ainge has had a very good summer. The Celtics entered the offseason at a crossroads and could have taken the team in some very different directions. One street led to Tanksville. A sad, lonely road that leads to despair and only a few lucky souls escape in tact. Another street led to Money River, where free agents bathe in ridiculous qualifying offers and absurd free agent deals. Ainge looked around and decided that he wanted to keep going in the same direction that he was already going. Call it Reload Road if you will.
They needed to try something different. Something like, say, a complete team effort rather than a batch of gaudy stat lines from the team's four All-Stars. A couple of stops here, a couple of loose balls there, and maybe a bench point or two, and the Celtics are a totally different team. That was the mindset going into Game 3 -- it had to be.
And they had me feeling very proud.
Win or lose, I'm very, very proud of this team. If it turns out that this is all we get, I will still look back on this year with a smile. We came so close in 2010 and that year was special in its own right as well.
Everyone started getting on the Boston bandwagon.
It's easy to root for the Celtics when they are going up against the NBA's version of Darth Vader, IRS auditors and fumbling dental surgeons. Pretty much everyone hates the Miami Heat outside of the 305 area code. In addition to playing the underdog role to perfection in the Eastern Conference finals, the Celtics have emerged as something else, something they're not quite accustomed to being: the lovable overachiever.
And people started to openly question LeBron James again.
LeBron James had just lost a home Game 5, and he and his teammates are headed to Boston for an elimination game at the hands of the underdog and underappreciated Celtics. Just like two years ago, they don't seem the least bit surprised.
That probably wasn't very smart.
All you who said LeBron didn't have that championship mindset, that he didn't have it in him to lead, that he'd shrivel up and die in the face of the elimination-game pressure: LeBron heard you. All of you. He internalized your words, he bottled up all his anger, and he unleashed it for 48 minutes in one of the greatest performances Boston -- or any other city on the planet, for that matter -- had ever seen.
But that didn't stop the Boston faithful from believing.
"Let's go Cel-tics." The chant starts softly, coming from the balcony seats. "Did you hear our crowd the last three minutes of the game?" Doc Rivers asked after. "What other crowd in the NBA does that? It's a terrific place to play. The fans were unbelievable."
However, you know how this story ends. And I thought I knew how the larger story was ending.
That's it folks. That was the end of the Big 3 era. And the legacy of the era will be 1 Championship and 2 game 7's that killed 2 golden opportunities to make it more. Once in 2010 and then tonight. Still very, very, very proud of these guys. No regrets. Just a shame they couldn't have gotten more.
It was looking like it could be the start of a long hard chapter in Boston.
If KG hangs it up, he's just riding off into the sunset. I think if that happens, the dominoes begin to fall and Ray Allen picks a new home and Paul Pierce has a long, frank conversation with management that ends up with him suggesting strongly that he'd like to play for a contender like the Bulls or maybe even his hometown Clippers.
Instead, the decision of one man started at least one prologue that we are reading through now.
According to an NBA source and a source close to Garnett, the sides are working out the details of a deal that will be for at least two years and could possibly include a third.
Everything we've come to know and love about the Captain was on full display. His aggressive attacking of the basket. His patented elbow jumper. His spin-splitting-the-double-team move. His rebounding and getting to the line. And even the spontaneous emotional celebration (this time in hilarious fashion with the Tebow on the Hawks center court circle). It was all there to soak in and enjoy.
Then it was Kevin Garnett.
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. might have made a tactical error yesterday when he let slip that he believed the Celtics' Kevin Garnett was, as he so eloquently put it, "the dirtiest guy in the league." Because apparently word got back to KG, and he responded in the Celtics' Game 6 showdown with those Hawks tonight.
Meanwhile, the rest of the East was falling apart and the Celtics were looking like a real threat for the title.
Across the Eastern Conference, the big stars are tumbling out of Miami’s way. Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose are out of these playoffs, the two best players at the two positions – center and point guard – the Heat have shown to be most vulnerable. They’re gone, but Wade never tackled them in a playoff game the way he did Rondo a season ago. The East is clearing out for the Heat, but Rondo, the slightest star in stature, still cuts the most threatening figure.
And Avery Bradley was still making a name for himself.
Perhaps the most impressive portion of Bradley's emergence defensively has been his ability to get himself into great position to make the proper plays. There have been a few occasions when he has been beaten off of a screen, but he has shown a phenomenal job of being able to recover well enough to alter the shot or even block it. In fact, he's amassed 16 blocks this season, and every single one of them have raised eyebrows.
But it wasn't like all was well. In fact, there was plenty of cause for concern.
Well, Pierce has a "strained MCL" and has been productive most days but sometimes looks a step short without a lot of lift. Ray Allen's bone spurred ankles continue to bother him - I think at this point it is just a matter of playing through pain when he can. He clearly wasn't 100% as evidenced by his woeful free throw shooting. Kevin Garnett has had hip flexor issues off and on all year and who knows what else that he's not telling us about. Oh, and Avery Bradley has a bruised rotator cuff, whatever that is and Greg Stiemsma has plantar fasciitis. But other than that, everyone is healthy as a peach. I guess.
You know, I don’t think we have a big margin of error," said the coach. "We knew that coming into this whole playoff run with the bodies we have. We’ve got guys going in and out of games. Paul (Pierce) clearly is not 100 percent. We’re not going to run away from anybody."
The Sixers pushed the Celtics to a 7th game and had us worried that the run was going to be for naught.
But what if they don't? What if they end up losing to the 8th seed in the 2nd round of the playoffs. What makes this team's fate any better than the Lakers inglorious exit? You almost have to revisit the decision to not break up the team at the trade deadline. Was a half a season and a first round win really worth it?
But they prevailed, in part because Ray Allen found his jumper at exactly the right time.
It is almost fitting that Ray Allen once played a character named Jesus, because his jumper was dead and buried last night. Yet it miraculously came back to life at exactly the right time to save his teammates. Please forgive the borderline sacrilegious analogy, I'm still feeling a little giddy.
They advanced to play the hated Miami Heat. Game 1 didn't go so well.
The Celtics, much like their fans, are seething mad over the first game blowout loss. Aside from a good 2nd quarter, everything went the Heat's way last night and by the end of the game Miami was just toying with them. At one point, LeBron James literally laughed in the face of a growling Kevin Garnett. That's not going to sit well.
Game 2 went better but had the same end result.
Amazing, remarkable, inspiring performance by Rajon Rondo who finished with a career high 44 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds. Might have been his best game ever. Good solid games by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Super-clutch 3 pointer to force overtime by Ray Allen. And the Heat STILL won the game.
On to June!
Right after the trade deadline, things really started clicking for the Celtics. It is as if they were holding their breath and got to exhale in the month of April.
In Bill Simmons' latest article, he not only states that Doc's work this season should have him in the "Coach of the Year" award race, but declares that the Celtics are now indeed championship contenders.
I know it doesn't fit the narrative. Sorry to disappoint. But Rondo came up big against the Atlanta Hawks last night, dropping a tidy little 10-20-10 stat line in a messy overtime victory at the TD Garden
The news came out that Pierce and Allen were almost traded at the deadline.
On one hand, it appears (so far) that Danny Ainge made the right decision to keep the team in tact at the trade deadline. On the other hand, if rumors like these are to be believed, that wasn't his intent at the deadline.
For his part, Allen says he would graciously accept such a move if coach Doc Rivers sees fit. "If it makes us better offensively, I have no problem with it," Allen said.
Hmmm, that's not what he said this offseason, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Speaking of getting ahead of ourselves.
I can't say I had the highest hopes in January, but I've always had the same sliver of hope. Just wait till the playoffs and see what happens. Still, I can't really say "I told you so" with a straight face since the team hasn't actually won a single postseason game yet. But just like in October, I'll take my chances against anyone.
The season finished strong but the playoffs opened on a sour note.
With 41 seconds to play, Rondo took umbrage with a loose ball foul on Bass, who was trying to force a jump ball with Smith on the floor trying to protect the ball in a scramble. When referee Marc Davis whistled the call, Rondo immediately disputed the call, getting tagged with a technical, then appeared to bump Davis, earning a second technical and automatic ejection.
Thankfully things got better after that.
As the trade deadline approached, there was lots of trade talk.
Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News is reporting that there might be a KG for Josh Smith trade in the works. He's an intriguing talent with another year and a former teammate of Rondo's from Oak Hill Academy.
Here we go again. The rumor show surrounding Rajon Rondo is back for another encore act. Despite Doc and Danny's denials of personality conflicts (and really, what else were they going to say?) the rumors persist that all is not well in Beantown.
The next couple of weeks will tell us exactly how Danny is evaluating this team. Not the games, per se. In theory, if Danny has already decided (as rumored) that this team can't compete, the team could win all the games between now and the trade deadline and Ainge would still be willing to trade anybody and everybody if necessary. But only and always for a price.
But ultimately there was no major action for the Celtics on trade day.
Well, the trade deadline came and went for Boston. No deals were made, and it appears as if Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers and the rest of the Boston front office have made the decision to move forward with this season. It may not be glamorous, but with the cards that were dealt to Danny Ainge and the calls it appears as if he made, the price was just too high for Boston to make any worthwhile deals.
But there was a foreshadow of things to come.
"I really do think Ray [Allen] will move on," she said. "I think he’ll have some great opportunities to do so, I think he’s got some years left in him, and I think he’s a great sniper for a championship team -- could be the Lakers, could be Miami, the Bulls I know would love to have him. So he’s going to have all sorts of options."
But in the background, Doc made a seemingly minor tweak to the lineup that paid great dividends down the road.
Nobody was happy with the way the team started. Least of all Danny Ainge.
People were calling for the team be "blown up." I didn't get that.
But that didn't stop the rumors and speculation from running rampant.
Kupchak answered:"Well, if there were a way for us to get a 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard we’d love to do it … but that’s not likely in February. So you look at other alternatives, and see if it’s better than what you have. That’s all."
Still, there was one bright spot.
Last year, much like this year, didn't start so well.
Before the season even started, Rajon Rondo was in trade rumors.
I was not trying to trade Rajon Rondo. There's a big difference between trying to acquire a player and trying to trade a player. I know that some people say, 'Oh, that's just semantics.' No it's not. Rondo knows what I was trying to do, and he knows I wasn't shopping him around and trying to trade him, like has been reported. There's a big difference."
Speaking of trades, stop me when this sounds familiar.
When we heard that DeMarcus Cousins may or may not have demanded a trade, you just knew that Danny Ainge would at least pick up the phone and give the Kings a ring. According to Mark Murphy, that's just what he did.
Hey, this sounds familiar too.
The first thing to consider is this -- the Celtics are still integrating a ton of new players into a complex system (both on offense and defense), and two weeks of training camp and two preseason games are not long enough to figure those things out.
But I wasn't ready to panic.
Bottom line, if they can't get things rolling now, I'm not sure they ever will. Does that mean I'm advocating "blowing it up?" Hold your trigger finger there gunslinger. I'll approach that topic someday soon, but here's my little preview. Why? What good would that do?
Or was I?
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