I hate to say I told you so... naw, that's not true. I love telling you I told you so. I've been on record all year saying I thought this was about a 30 win team and right now we're about on pace for 32 wins.
We're about to start a West Coast trip of 5 games and if we win more than 1 it would be a shocking surprise. The key thing to remember, I believe, is not to get too down for the losses and too up for the wins. Sure the team was doing well in December and earned some very solid wins. But Stevens did his best to downplay the division standings and he was absolutely right to do so.
Now we're seeing the team regress a bit and fall back to the pack of also-rans in the East. If and when the team continues to struggle out West, it will be equally important not to panic. Ainge won't make a knee-jerk trade to compete now and we shouldn't dismiss all these players as worthless when they sometimes struggle as a collective.
We've got good, solid players on this basketball team. They fight hard and many of them are learning as they go, and picking things up very quickly. They are also well prepared and well coached. Those elements are going to be good for some wins in a long season.
The problem is that they aren't really, REALLY good yet. Obviously they are missing their only legit star player in his prime. Jeff Green seems to have leveled off at very good. Sullinger is rising fast, but still in the upswing of his young career. Bradley is learning how to be a better team defender and mixing in some offense into his game but can still be a mixed bag himself. Crawford was playing a bit above his head and is now falling back a bit. Olynyk is a rookie, enough said.
There are a lot of rotation level vets on this team as well. Bass, Lee, Wallace, Humphries, and even Faverani are all good enough to be contributing on most NBA teams. None are good enough to carry a team for more than a game or two though.
So the Celtics best chance of winning on any given night is for the collective team to play better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes that will happen, sometimes not. And sometimes they'll play well but still get beat because the other team simply has more talent (like any of the next few games out West).
Again, this was all to be expected once Ainge made The Trade and didn't follow up with other moves. This team looked on paper to be a lottery bound squad. Not bottom 3 lottery, but solid lottery range. Obviously Rondo is the wildcard and his return date and how well he performs upon his return could swing things one way or the other.
Still, this team is who we thought they'd be. They are where we expected them to be in terms of talent and development and even wins and losses. It isn't their fault that the rest of the East seems to be playing well below expectations and has more injuries to key players than we might have expected.
Now we wait and see if Danny Ainge finds any deals he likes in the next 7 weeks. I'm sure he'll be active in just about every trade discussion but I also wouldn't be surprised if he lets the deadline pass without a deal completed. The real changes will happen this summer and I tend to think they'll be pretty substantial.
Even if we just use our two picks (probably somewhere in the 10 to 19 range), that would be a step in the right direction in terms of increasing our talent level. The draft is deep and one of them could end up being a steal on the level of Sullinger or Al Jefferson. The Pacers have proved that you don't need to have high draft picks to build a contender, but you have to be both good and lucky in the draft and with your other moves.
For now, however, we will continue to watch a mediocre team fight hard for wins and more often than not come up short. The goals this year are development and growth, not wins and playoffs. If the wins come as a result of that growth, even better. If not, then the consolation prize is a higher draft position. It is what it is.