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Out in Los Angeles, the debate rages on about whether Mike D'Antoni's system fits the current roster and as comforting as the Lakers' failure has been to Celtics fans, there is growing concern that the team's offensive struggles are are due to Doc's orders.
As a Celtic fan in LA, I'm reveling in their losing streak. Sports radio is wall-to-wall misery for the purple and gold. A minute doesn't go by when they either want to fire their coach, sell a current cornerstone, or trade their future franchise player. But it's all bittersweet because of what's happening in Boston. It's not on the same scale as the Lakers, but we're going through some growing pains with the new team, too. There's talk of blowing it up, whispers of trading away underperforming role players, and even discussions of trading Paul Pierce.
And in Steve Bulpett's column this morning, he suggests that there might be a rift in the locker room between players and coach:
At some point, the coach is telling the players what to do, and, as Paul Pierce said in a conversation Tuesday morning, the response just isn't there.
And while Rivers can be harsh with his troops at times, he is said to be a players' coach in that he doesn't over-practice them. He doesn't send them into the gym on the day after a back-to-back. He doesn't hold the morning session on the court after a game the previous night.
But Rivers doesn't internalize the fact that instructions are not being followed to the necessary degree. This is not a problem for him.
"It's not," he said. "It really isn't. I never take it personally. I always view a team the way I think the team should be, and I'm going to try to get them there, and that's my job. You think of it, we've had several years like this, and then we've gotten it. But then we've had some when we haven't gotten it. To me, it's part of coaching.
"It's great when you don't have to go through anything. In 2008, nothing. It was just a godsend. But they got it, early. You think of Miami two years ago, they didn't get it. It was the same talent, but they didn't get it. It really took them all year to get it. That's just the way it is."
This is troublesome.
On Sunday, #20 comes back to play his first game in the Garden after stabbing us in the back to join the Heat. I can't say that I miss him, but there was a beauty with how Doc found Ray open looks. He'd come off a series of intricate screens and only needed a sliver of space to get off his picture perfect jump shot. As maddening as it was when it didn't work, It was the epitome of a team working together for a common goal. I was happy to be a Celtics fan because I hated the one-on-one styles of LeBron and Kobe.
Some might suggest that Doc's heavy reliance of his X's and O's expertise was born out of necessity. Even the teams that went to the Finals in 2008 and 2010 weren't the most talented offensive teams in the league. Danny surrounded The Big Four with role players that could hit a shot or two if needed, but were really only there to service all stars. That couldn't be more true than last season. Injuries surely played its part, but the Celtics entered Game 7 in Miami needing something from guys like Mikael Pietrus, Ryan Holins, and Greg Stiemsma. That never happened.
So this summer, Danny filled out the roster with players--for lack of a better word--who are just ballers, guys who can score regardless of circumstance. Ainge fell in love with Jeff Green's athletic versatility and range. Courtney Lee was a reliable NBA journeyman who was a proven scorer everywhere he went. Even the late off-season addition of Leandro Barbosa marked a decisive change in what the team was looking for: instead of trying to make role players scorers, the philosophy shifted to trying to make scorers role players.
So far, that experiment isn't working.
The most glaring example to me is the downward spiral that Jason Terry's production has seen since landing at Logan. The Jet was brought in to be instant offense off the bench as a former 6th Man Of The Year. What's happened? Well, instead of being the triple threat playmaker he was in Dallas, Doc has tried to shoe horn him into Ray Allen's old role. In Doc's system (according to MySynergySports.com), 31.6% of Jason Terry's looks come off of spot ups and 19.6% off screens. That's over 50% moving off the ball. Sound familiar?
In Rick Carlisle's flow offense, the Mavs featured Jet as the pick-and-roll ball handler 25.8% of the time (25% in spot ups and 7.7% off screens). He's not the point guard that Rajon Rondo is, but he's a playmaker and Carlisle recognized that. Like Doc, Carlisle was known as a set-heavy coach, but he scaled it back in Dallas because of the number of versatile vets he had with the Mavericks. Guys like Dirk, Marion, Kidd, and Barea could freelance and make decisions on the fly. The pick-and-roll is the simplest offensive basketball play because it unlocks every defense. It puts both defensive and offensive player in decision-making moments and for a guy like Terry who's spent his entire career as a playmaker, it's got to be frustrating being in such a regimented system. And for what it's worth, Jason Terry is featured as the pick-and-roll ball handler 12.3% for the C's and ranks 22nd in the league in terms of production in that role. Tell me this couldn't be a staple with Terry and KG?
There are certainly role players on this team that have flourished in Doc's army. Brandon Bass was a model soldier last season and because of that, he was rewarded with a new contract and a return to the starting lineup. However, his production is tied directly to the most talented playmaker on the team and that's Rajon Rondo. This was the year that he was supposed to take over the team but instead, he's waffled between reluctant scorer and triple-double threat all year. Sure, Bass is not doing a lot of things right now that aren't tied to Rondo's production (like rebounding and hitting shots), but it's unfair to say that he's not producing based solely on the numbers. Sometimes I think it's unfair to compare Bass to Sullinger because Sullinger doesn't have plays called for him. It's just, "get your ass in there, grab some rebounds, and play defense!"
What's the answer? For now, it sounds like Doc will stay the course with what's been working for the last five years:
So is any of this because their ears have gotten too used to the same voice?
"You just keep doing it, keep pushing. You know, it's part of coaching. All the X's and O's and all that crap, it's a part of coaching. And guys don't outwardly not do stuff on purpose. It's just not in them at times. They're in thought. There's a lot of reasons, and people don't ever get that. I do."
"No, because that wouldn't be the case," Rivers said. "This is nine new guys. That makes no sense, you know what I mean?
"Every year you have a different group. Especially us. We do it every year unfortunately, but we do. We make a lot of changes, and with each group the dynamics change. And you've got to get into those dynamics and get them to work right.
The next three games are crucial. If the Celtics don't take two out of the next three against New York, Atlanta, and Miami, change might be on the horizon. Personally, I don't think it's a matter of changing personnel. This is the most talented group of players assembled in the entire league. It really is. However, what might have to change is the style that they play. Popovich changed styles after David Robinson retired and Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker aged. I hate to bring this all back to the Lakers, but do you know when they were playing their best basketball? It was when Bernie Bickerstaff was their head coach between Mike Brown and Mike D'Antoni and he just let them play. I'm hardly suggesting that Bickerstaff replace Rivers, but it might do some good for Doc to ease up a bit and unleash the inner baller of this team.