This is part II of my High Five series where I interview members of the media and pick their brains on the Celtics. The first one was with Steve Bulpett, who was kind enough to give me advice when I first started getting serious with this blog. Sean Grande is another guy that has been a big supporter and friend to me through the years.
How far back do we go? How about 2005? See the full interview here. I had a chance to catch up with him again this week. See the Q&A below.
1. Way, way back in 2005, I asked you about the prospect of the Celtics trading Paul Pierce. Here's what you wrote:
People ask me if I'm in favor of trading Paul Pierce. I don't understand the question. For what? Ray Allen? No. Shaq and Dwayne Wade? Sure. I guess what I'm saying is I don't believe in making moves for the sake of making moves. Stability is an incredibly overlooked asset in the NBA.
I'm not the first one to draw parallels between Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce - in fact Ainge offered up some differences between the two (Rajon has had success while Pierce mostly had frustration). How would you compare the situations?
Grande: I think it's a very legit comparison, in so far as the common thinking then was that Paul was going to be traded, like the thinking is now that Rondo will. When the goal, Plan A, is for him to become an integral piece in what's next. Doesn't mean it will happen. Remember, if the Celtics don't drop in the 2007 lottery, they get Oden or Durant and instead of one of the best teams in NBA history, they could easily have had one of the worst. And there is no New Big 3 Era. That could happen this time. Rondo's a couple of years younger than Paul was, but I think it's a fair comparison in that you have the assets that could bring two other stars here to play with him. Just one of many directions Danny has the option to go...directions he carefully and skillfully constructed for himself.
2. The draft lottery is looking like a potential pivot point with the team. Again, there are parallels with 2007. If they had landed a top 2 pick, Paul Pierce's days in Boston likely would have been numbered as they built around Durant or Oden. So in theory a top 3 pick could mean the end of Rondo as a Celtic. Or a lower pick could lead to a win-now trade to build around Rondo. Of course, nothing is that simple is it?
Grande: Very, very little is simple in the NBA. Predicting how a Josh Smith game is going to go, simple. But like I said, I see a ton of similarities. And in fact, the Celtics may be better positioned in 2014 than they were in 2007. Actually forget "may", they are. Doesn't mean they'll be as fortunate in finding a trade partner, and there's not one of the top 15 players in NBA history available. But as the guy who stood up screaming "Kevin Garnett" when it seemed everyone who covered the team and 80% of the fans (don't take my word, that's a documented Boston Herald poll) were against me, I know when I say the name Carmelo, 80% would be conservative. But last week (pre Phil Jackson) I was asked about the immediate future and said "why couldn't lightning strike twice", using Carmelo and Kevin Love with Rondo as surrogates. Point being, those two guys are approaching the middle to late part of their prime, and they won't be able to win with their current teams in the next three years. If they go somewhere together...they can. Chicago and LA may be sexier, but I guess "why not us?" would be the cry. Two first round picks and some very promising early 20-something pieces are more than anyone else can offer.
3. Eventually there's going to be some trades and we may have to give up some potentially very good players in order to improve our roster to title-contender status. Assuming there are no "untouchables" on the roster (since Danny is running things), who do you see as the guys it would take the most to pry loose?
Grande: Depends on who your'e chasing. To me, Sullinger/Olynyk is the Al Jefferson this time around. (Not to mention the war chest of picks). On a lesser scale, I was really surpried this trade deadline that no one came calling on Bass, or in particular Humphries, who would have been a huge addition for one of those contending Western team (Houston, LA Clippers, etc.) I suppose by default, Bass is the bet combination of veteran skill set and contract that you'd have to call him the most likely. Gerald Wallace moves into a new category next year, with two years left instead of three.
4. Shifting to the here and now, what are some developments that have impressed you with this team? For example: I've been impressed that Rondo, Bradley, and Sullinger have all seemingly improved their jump shooting.
Grande: Here's my top of the list for 2013-14. Two are obvious, the third more subtle but just may end up, just maybe, the most significant. The first is the development (and health) of Jared Sullinger. Plus/Minus can be pretty deceiving but his numbers are scary at this point. (+15/-282 going into Brooklyn on the 21st). There are things about his game, around the rim that even at his size, you can't teach (I remember saying something similar about Rondo in his rookie year). (Obviously, as anyone who's listend to ten minutes of us this year knows, not thrilled about all the 3-point shots. I want to see his FTA/3FGA ratio at 4:1, not 1:1. But that's just me.) Kelly Olynyk's second half, while under the radar league-wide, has been very significant. The game has slowed down dramatically for him. In fact, in one of the least inspiring ROTY seasons in recent memory, he's about ten big games away from sneaking into the conversation. It's fun to watch. Reminds me a little of Al's second year. Him guarding Dirk down the stretch the other night? One of things about a year like this you remember. The other obvious one is Brad. There was just way to know last July if he'd be able to do this, if he'd clear the biggest hurdle, winning the respect of NBA players. But he did it. With his work ethic, and his respect for them, and for the game. It's a huge learning curve, obviously, but is there anyone after year one that thinks this isn't the guy? (I guess the Tank Brigade was unhappy...he won too many games). The not so obvious one, which has potential for a huge payoff is this; the deeply emotional, passionate returns of Paul, KG and Doc. The name of the NBA game is superstars. And you can lucky in the draft, get the right picks and develop them, but mostly, you have to get them to come here as free agents, or trade for them and get them to stay. The common thinking has been that Boston isn't one of those places. And it's not LA or Miami, I get that, I walk to the Garden in those sub-zero wind chills. But I think there's a star out there, that wants to win, and wants to win somewhere that matters, and somewhere where heroes are heroes and are welcomed home they way those three were. This may seem like another crazy Grande long shot, but there may come a day when the next Celtics superstar talks about watching the night Paul, KG and Doc came back and mentioning it as a factor in his decision.
5. Brad Stevens has done pretty well with the difficult jump from college to the pros thus far. What do you think he has already improved upon and what does he still need to work on to be one of the best in the game?
Grande: Covered some of this. But Brad and I obviously have had many conversations throughout the year, and this is something I told him early, probably during the 4-10 start in November. That while he was intellectually prepared for the losing, and the travel and the no practice and the losing again the next night, that it's like being a parent (which I wasn't when we did this in 2005). When you're not one, you can say intellectually that you get it, you'll never sleep again, it will take over your life, etc. But until you're actually in it, and it's in three dimensions around you, you can't truly understand it. I think he's had a remarkable first year for someone who'd never been in the league. And I think almost all of his instincts were right. But next year, he'll know where he was right, and that's a big difference. His ATO's were NBA-ready from the start, so much of his game prep was, but if I were nitpicking, I bet he'd like to have some time out decisions back, some game management things, the number of possessions, when to stop it, when not to. But let's remember that nine months ago, it felt like Doc was irreplaceable. Now, you're as excited to watch his development as you are Jared and Kelly's.
Thanks again Sean!