Forgoing the result of the Celtics v. Cavs game tomorrow, we’re now (one game from) halfway through the season and rapidly approaching the trade deadline (March 6).
Thoughts and Issues:
- The Celtics have issues, and these aren’t issues that can be fixed by a simple roster tweak – i.e. bringing in a D-League player or signing a mid-season free agent. The Celtics are entering a time of Dynamic Phase Shift, staring at the proverbial ‘fork in the road’. There is no in-between for this team. I thought the addition of a true center, like Kaman or Pryz, to the current roster would push this team toward the top, but I’ve come to realize that it won’t be enough. Even if Ainge could add Kaman or Pryz without giving up anything, this team would still suffer from offensive droughts, poor rebounding, and inconsistency. The basic flaw with this team is that the age of the Big-3 has caused a dynamic shift in the game plan the team should be employing. They’re a slow, plodding half-court team. You know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. Playoff basketball is slow and plodding. Consider the growing divide between Rondo’s athleticism and the Big-3’s half-court prowess. It is oil and water on court. The organization, and we fans, are dealing with a new and different beast. Decisions must be made based on the present, not the past (with a little thought given to the future). The Big-3 + Rondo cannot compete for a championship this year or next. Within the next two weeks, Ainge will have to decide which version of the team to build around, and, let’s be honest, no one has any idea what Ainge is thinking other than he is ‘open’ to trading anyone on the roster. Ainge must ruminate over this question: Do I build the team around Rondo and whatever I can get by way of trades or the off-season or do I continue to build around the core of the Big-3? In my opinion, Ainge should continue to build around the three Hall of Famers, for I see them as a single unit who bring out the best in each other. If Allen is traded, Pierce and KG will suffer. If Pierce is traded, Allen and KG will suffer. If KG is traded, the team may as well crawl in a hole and go into hibernation. The Celtics have superb players at SG/SF/PF, and they play best as a unit. Rondo is a talented PG, but he is the odd man out. His game doesn’t elevate the other three to championship-level, and since no one on the team is signed to a disastrous long-term contract, I see no point in planning solely for the future. Each season over the next few years Ainge will have cap space to make moves. If you trade the Big-3 for young talent to run with Rondo, where will the team be in three years when Rondo loses a step athletically and still cannot hit outside shots consistently? Trading Allen, Pierce, and KG will not bring back equal talent, but rather young, unproven talent and a few draft picks. Can Rondo lead unproven talent to a championship run before he’s no longer the athletic Rondo we know and love? If Rondo was Chris Paul, my opinion would be different, but he’s not, he’s Rondo, for better or worse. That is why, if I were GM, I would continue to stick it out with the Big-3, maximizing the talent around them. Based on how open Ainge was to trading Rondo during the off-season, he may be leaning in this direction too. We’ll soon see, as March 6th is only eight days away.
- "First, let’s congratulate the team on its improved play and consistency. More than picking up wins, a fan likes to see his team building, piece by piece, toward the playoffs. Wins matter, but so do improvement and cohesion. This team is currently on the right path. Let’s hope injuries or a lack of focus don’t derail them before the playoffs." – That was how I was going to begin this article, until the team hit a massive road bump named ‘INCONSISTENCY’. Now, my original statement looks sarcastic. A lot can change in two weeks. The team had won nine of their past ten games before derailing after a loss to the Lakers on Feb. 9. Now, they have lost seven of their past eight. There has been little to no cohesion or consistency, and though disappointing, their play has been anything but surprising. The ‘starting-5’ hasn’t started many games together, with each starter missing time here or there, and the sixth man (Bass) has been out. Without a consistent lineup, it’s difficult to set a consistent tone and for everyone to have consistent roles. For example, people have begun calling Pietrus the ‘new Rasheed’, but is it his fault that he is put in the position to only take threes? Doc puts him in that position, the one that has him standing at the corner three line waiting for an awkward pass as the shot clock runs down, or running the exact same screen-and-shoot as Ray Allen. That’s not Pietrus’ game, but that is what he’s being asked to do in lieu of there being a full, healthy roster.
This season is rapidly slipping away, and I don’t think many can argue that this team, as constructed, can turn it around. Perhaps they can, but they’re already at the bottom of a BIG hill, so they better start soon. If the Knicks continue to play inspired ball (I don’t think they will), the Celtics will continue to find themselves in the 8th seed, fending off young up-and-coming teams in the Bucks and Cavs; teams whose legs will be younger and fresher come the final stretch of the season. No fan wants to see the Celtics’ final game of the season (April 26, against the Bucks) take on any more meaning than it has to.
- The saddest realization of the demise of this Celtics’ core (beginning with the trade of Perkins last season) is that this was a core worth loving, not simply liking, accepting, or rooting for. Since 2008, we fans have been blessed with a team worthy of our adoration and respect. Pierce, the lifelong Celtic. Allen, the sweetest shooter in NBA history, who was brought ‘home’ to New England, where he had starred for the UConn Huskies. Garnett, a competitor built from the mold of Russell and Bird. Perkins, the scowling enforcer who racked up techs on the floor, but who was always a joke away from releasing that child-like smile. Rondo, the enigmatic PG who had fans believing he could carry the torch into the next era. Not one of them came in and felt like a mercenary or an out-of-towner. They felt like family from the very beginning. It felt like they’d always been in Celtic Green.
That is what stings most from the demise of this current Celtics team. That is why I cried at work when Perkins was traded. That is why I sat on the floor of my living room for hours, unmoving, when they lost Game 7 in 2010. That is why I ran through the streets of NYC when they won in 2008. I molded my fiancée, a basketball non-fan into a die-hard Celtics fan. They always felt like family and they became a part of our family.
Now, Perkins is gone. Any of the remaining Big-4 could be gone by the end of next week. It’s an emotional time for us fans.
- Now for some celebratory news. Let’s all put our hands together for Paul Pierce’s most recent accomplishment – passing Larry Legend on the list of all-time Celtics scorers. Other than donning my old Pierce jerseys for my weekly bball league, all I can do to honor the man is print what Coach Doc said about him after his feat: "Whenever you pass anybody in Boston that means you’re old, No. 1. That’s the only way you can get there. You’ve had to play a long time, because the history of this franchise and the numbers that are amassed. It’s just amazing -- his longevity and he’s been relatively injury free... and he’s been so consistent throughout his career. Passing Larry Bird in anything is pretty impressive." Yes, it is.
- Now for the bad Pierce. He certainly seems to have hit a wall recently. Physically, I believe he’s working toward his second wind, but it’s tough to watch. Though he is still the only player on the team that can create his own shot, he doesn’t have much athleticism left, so his drives to the basket appear to be in slow-mo. And, he always seems to be yearning for a bail-out foul call rather than an And-1. Granted he has never received the beneficial treatment allotted to ‘star’ players like Kobe, Wade, and LeBron, but if he truly wants to guarantee the call then he has to bring the ball hard to the rim, not gingerly to the paint. And, after a non-call, rather than glaring at the officials (ala Kobe), Pierce seems to plead for an apology and a cookie, like a little kid baffled by an unfair world. It’s tough to see ‘The Truth’ playing more like ‘the truth?’, but I do think he’ll work his way through this latest setback.
- Bass has been out for the past few games, but prior to this recent injury he had proven himself to be the steal of the off-season. Consider what the team gave up for their multi-talented sixth man – Big Baby and Von Wafer. Big Baby’s been suspended by his new team and dropped his shorts during a game to protest a call and Von Wafer is still Von Wafer. Hopefully, Bass continues this steady play and picks up his player’s option for next season. If he doesn’t, Ainge will have to seriously consider re-signing him. By the way, is it me, or does Bass have the weirdest jump shot in Celtics’ history? His entire body seems to scrunch down and then flail out every time he shoots. The shots go in, however, so I’m not complaining.
- Rondo. What would a Celtics article be without a section devoted to our enigmatic PG.
He is certainly an intriguing player, so it’s a shame I don’t trust Rondo more. If only he could improve his shooting (floor and free throw) – he’s been on a relative tear of late, limit his defensive gambling – doubtful, and come to play every night – he is an enigma. You may be thinking, "Come to play every night? He’s the toughest guy on the team." Rondo is tough and he’s a great competitor…when he wants to be. Rondo has a bad habit of often playing to the level of his opponent, which is how he can throw up triple-doubles against the Heat and Lakers, but suffer against B-level competition. He needs to bring it consistently, which includes eating up lesser competition, if he is ever to be the true leader of this team. [Please don’t start throwing Rondo’s game stats over the past two weeks at me. Two weeks doesn’t equal consistent play anymore than two weeks makes Jeremy Lin a Hall of Fame player.] Personally, I don’t think Rondo can be consistent. I don’t think it’s in his bball personality and he’s never shown it to be a part of his game. Rondo will forever be an amazing talent who delivers brilliance every so often, but not consistently. That’s not the guy you want to build a team around, and with a lack of game-changing free agents available (that are considering Boston) with whom to team with Rondo, Ainge has to consider trading him now, while he has value.
Speaking of Rondo’s inconsistency, I’m not too upset over his frustrated reaction that drew an unwarranted 2-game suspension (Kevin Love received 2 games for stomping on Luis Scola’s face), but it may be another nail in his Celtics’ coffin, considering if he’s not traded Ainge is basically banking on Rondo as a team leader entering the next era. Do team leaders throw balls at refs? Well, Pierce once ripped his jersey off and acted a fool during a 2005 playoff loss, so maybe there is still hope for Rondo to grow. But, his recent behavior doesn’t bode well for the future, especially if that future contains a few more bumpy roads.
I’d like to touch on the oft-mentioned Rondo (+O’Neal) for Gasol trade rumor that’s floating around the internet. I do love Rondo as a Celtic, but that love doesn’t blind me to the flaws in his game, and, let’s be honest, at this time his game doesn’t fit the team around him. People on this site know I’m open to trading him, and I don’t believe trading him hurts the team long-term because I don’t believe he’s a long-term answer (a piece, perhaps, but not a definite must). Would I rather trade Rondo for a better fit with Allen/Pierce/KG (players that are here now), or trade Allen/Pierce/KG for a better fit with Rondo (hoping someone super-duper special comes along)? The former, please. Gasol brings immediate post improvement to the Celtics on both the offensive and defensive sides. He’s a scorer and rebounder and a legit 7-footer, and would immediately make the Celtics an inside-out offensive team littered with talented jump shooters. Yes, the team would then have to pick up a PG to play ahead of Bradley, but finding a competent PG isn’t as difficult as finding a talented, legit 7-footer. I said competent, not All-Star. Trade one of the two 1st round picks for someone along the lines of Ray Felton or Jose Calderon or Darren Collison or Mike Conley (someone along these lines, perhaps not one of these guys). Gasol plus a competent PG extends the window for this team into next season (if Allen and KG return), while trading everyone and keeping Rondo keeps the team…where, exactly? Gasol is only 31 years-old. He’s not ancient, and he’s signed for only two more years. Yes, at $19 million he’s expensive, but here is why Ainge is probably ok with bringing on Gasol’s salary and having less cap space this coming summer – he knows free agents aren’t clamoring to sign with Boston, and other than Dwight Howard is there a better game-changing 7-footer out there? Gasol would basically be one of Ainge’s free agent signings, however, he’s signed for only two years and he’s certainly not overpaid. Also, and I don’t necessarily believe this factors into Ainge’s decision, but it is a nice bonus, Rondo doesn’t push the Lakers over the top. Getting Gasol on the Celtics is a better move than the Lakers adding Rondo. The Lakers strength rests in Kobe’s continued brilliance and their enormous frontline of Gasol and Bynum. Subtract Gasol and add Rondo and that’s not a better team. Add Gasol to the Celtics and they’re immediately better. Let’s face it, they’re a half-court team on both ends of the court, and Rondo’s half-court offensive game is lacking. Gasol’s terrific on both ends. When you consider that the Celtics’ defense is still superb, and many of the games they lose are due to offensive droughts and surrendering too many second-chance points, well, Gasol solves both those problems. Gasol is an athletic 7-footer who creates his own offense and rebounds like a true center – currently close to 11rpg. In the Big-3 era, no Celtic has approached 10rpg (KG was at 9.2rpg in 2007-08). As the hypothetical trade is currently proposed – Rondo+O’Neal for Gasol, I consider it too foolish to pass up.
On the subject of this trade, t.w wrote a nice article that’s worth checking out.
- I’ve been thinking recently about consistency during the post-Original-Big-3 era, which from 1993 until 2007 can be considered the worst era of Celtics basketball. Which players during that span truly brought it night-in, night-out? Not just numbers, but actually came to play each night and contribute however they could regardless of if their shots were falling. Guys who took to the court, hustled, set solid screens, played solid defense, and did the little things to help their team win. You know, guys like Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ, and the other great Celtics of history.
Reggie Lewis was to be the leader of the Celtics until his unfortunate heart-related death in 1993, which directly kicked off that depressing stretch. He, much more than Len Bias (who never played a NBA game and died from a drug overdose), was THE biggest loss in Celtics’ history. Reggie Lewis would have been the next Larry Bird, but that’s a discussion for another time. Perkins brought it from the moment he arrived, even though he was young and had a steep learning curve. Anytime Leon Powe hit the floor you knew he was going to bring it, regardless of how many minutes he played. Perk and Powe never had the most talent on the floor, but they brought it each time they stepped on the floor. PJ Brown was another, though his stint with the team was short.
From the period of 1993-2007, I cannot remember another player who consistently played hard. [Who am I overlooking?] The 90’s and early-00’s were littered with flakes. Antoine, Ricky Davis, Al Jefferson, Rick Fox, Douglas, Barros, Dee, and then Tony Allen and Big Baby. They were all as inconsistent as can be. Some of them are/were very talented, but each one of them could be taken out of a game mentally. A few of them even admitted to ‘checking out’ time and again. When that happened, they were useless on the court. You can’t win a championship with too much useless dead weight playing big minutes.
Pierce, though a talented competitor, played a lot like Rondo in his early years. The great Pierce would show up against quality opponents, but the early-00’s Celtics lost a lot of games to opponents they should have beat, and Pierce was the team leader that failed to consistently lead. In many ways, Pierce is still that player, as is evidenced by his coming into the season out of shape and his up-and-down play so far, only the level of talent around him spurs him on more often than not. This is mostly due to the presence of Kevin Garnett – for an interesting bit of trivia, check out drza44’s article. KG arrived as a consistent competitor (one of the greatest in NBA history), and until injuries affected his game in 2009 he was the guy who brought it night-in, night-out. Age and injuries haven’t killed his desire to bring it, but have numbed his ability to bring it. Allen, by way of being primarily a long-distance shooter, has his on- and off-nights, and his game seems to wax and wane depending on whether or not he’s getting looks that night (not hitting shots, but getting into the flow of the game by taking shots). The rest of the current team is as inconsistent as can be, though I am pleased by Brandon Bass’ play this season. Some of this inconsistency is caused directly by Doc’s always-shifting rotations due to injuries, but the majority of it rests on the players. When you’re on the court, you give effort. Plain and simple.
The Celtics haven’t had many consistent, talented competitors over the past twenty years, and my fear of having Rondo as the next de facto team leader is that we fans will be faced with another era of inconsistent play and zero championships.
- After watching Portland play the past few weeks, I’m beginning to think Nicolas Batum may be a potential answer for the Celtics this off-season. He’s 23 years-old, 6’8", 200lbs., attacks the rim with abandon, plays defense, and hits the three at a .400+ clip. He can be used as a backup to Pierce or a starting/backup PF. He’s a spot starter now, though he does average 30mpg. Bringing him off the bench at SF with Bass at PF would be a terrific move. Or, start Batum and Bass, and bring Pierce and a re-signed KG off the bench. Batum refused Portland’s contract extension (currently makes only $1 million per season), so at the very least he’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. It is unlikely he’ll demand anything near a max contract, and even if Portland attempts to match all contracts they’ll have to bail at some point due to the number of players they need to lock up in the coming seasons. I hope Ainge is keeping an eye on Batum. This is all assuming of course that Jeff Green is not signed again in the off-season. Batum and he are almost the exact same player, though Batum is younger and won’t be coming off heart surgery. I wish Green the best, but can Ainge bet on him once again?
- One final celebratory note: The Celtics had not given up 100 points to an opponent since the second game of the season – 29 games, while often undermanned – before giving up 119 to the Thunder. That is a feat worthy of the annals of NBA history.
- One final lamentable note: Over those 29 games, the Celtics only scored 100 points three times – once again the Raptors and twice against the Wizards. One thing they’re doing consistently is NOT scoring.
- One non-Celtics note: Did anyone see Perk’s clean screen on Devon Harris during the OCK v. Jazz game on 2/14? He flattened Harris and didn’t even flinch. They removed the video off www.nba.com, but the video of his sweet behind-the-back pass is still there. I tell you, no matter how much certain people think Perk is overrated or overpaid, the Celtics could sure use his presence in the post.
The next twelve games finds the team endeavoring upon its yearly West Coast swing, this year stopping by LA for two (Fakers and Clips), GS, SAC, and DEN, all following a home slate against some tough opponents (HOU, POR, NY). All twelve games are winnable, but let’s forget the record for a moment and see if the team can simply play consistent basketball.
I hope my next update finds them with a record of 27-17. Go Celtics!
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