Yogi Berra notwithstanding, the 2006/07 season for your Boston Celtics is over. It ainâ€™t happening for them this year. What other conclusion is there to draw from this season of the witch than it is now, unofficially of course, time to slide into the tank?
Of the six Celtics on the injured list, only two of them â€" Allen and Ratliff â€" are definitely not coming back this season. The other four, which includes Pierce, Szczerbiak, West and Scalabrine, will likely return at some point. The only real difference-maker in terms of the teamâ€™s won-loss record is Pierce. Sure, the Câ€™s might win an extra game or two with the other three back in action, but with Pierce in uniform they stand to win just enough to deprive the franchise of what it truly needs at this point in time â€" a top three pick in the â€™07 draft.
It will be very interesting to see how management handles this situation. Putting fannies in the seats to watch a team with no chance and no star will be challenging to say the least. Will ownership be inclined to take that financial hit to better serve the Big Picture down the road? Will they be able to suggest that Pierce takes a David Robinson like siesta for the balance of the season while (wink-wink!) hobbling around on the bad foot?
As for Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers, are they going to be content to use the rest of the season as extended developmental ball with the youngsters on the roster? Pierce could be cleared to resume play by the 1st of February, a month with a particularly brutal schedule for the team. Out of the twelve games that month, the Celtics, even with Pierce in the lineup, would charitably be favored to win one game.
Steve Patterson, the GM of the Blazers, made a telling comment the other day when asked about the possibilities of making a trade before the deadline (February 22nd). â€œI think the key for us is to not do something that is more beneficial in the short route that makes it harder to construct a team that is competitive for a long time. You know, something that wins you three more games this year, but means you are more cap-locked for five years and doesnâ€™t allow you to sign someone in free agency.â€
We can only hope and pray that Ainge is of the same mind as Patterson in this regard. The only chance this team has of reaching the playoffs this year is to win the Atlantic Division. With the Nets, Knicks and Raptors all playing better not to mention being healthier, even that is a long shot. So why make a move that would hurt draft positioning? The only moves Ainge should even consider making at this point are ones that would jettison Szczerbiak and his contract and perhaps those of Scalabrine and Ratliff as well. He should not look to take back anything but a player with an expiring contract, a young guy with upside or draft picks.
Even with his ongoing ankle issues, you have to believe there are some teams that feel Wally could help them as a scorer off the bench. The Knicks spring to mind immediately. They are starting to play better, and Me Myself and Isaiah is highly motivated. â€œIâ€™ve been around a long time,â€ he said yesterday, â€œ and this is going to be a strange year. I think this is anybodyâ€™s ball game right now.â€
In the Eastern Conference, Thomas sees the Knicks as a playoff team and perhaps even a contender in the right scenario. They are not getting Chris Webber, so he may turn to other options to bolster the roster. They have a couple of expiring contracts in Malik Rose and Kelvin Cato, neither of whom fit into their plans this year. Not that the Knicks are the only potential suitor for Szczerbiakâ€™s services. It would not be a stretch to see interest in Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Cleveland, and Indiana. And thatâ€™s just the East.
Ratliff, I imagine, will be kept around into next season when his large expiring contract becomes a valuable chip. As for Veal, somebody must love the guy. (He is wearing Aingeâ€™s old #44.) Weâ€™re probably tied to him for the balance of his contract.
The only avenue that makes sense at this point is getting the youngsters as much PT as possible and evaluate their long-term worth to the Celtics at seasonâ€™s end. The players (and the fans) are going to have to absorb a lot of beatings. Hopefully they will be competitive losses, and the team will be stronger for it next season.
So forget the East, forget the Atlantic Division, forget the playoffs. The real competition this season will be between the Celtics and teams such as Charlotte, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Memphis, NO/OK, and possibly Seattle. Going into tonightâ€™s tilt against the Raptors, the Celtics are currently 5th in the all-important Win column with 12, just one ahead (or behind) Seattle and NO/OK. They are 6th in win percentage, ahead (or behind) only NO/OK among the Less-Than-Magnificent Seven. That is simply not good enough. The Celts are going to have to try harder to lose without trying to lose if you get my drift.
As a good fan, I am going to do my part by lending support to those teams doing battle with the Celtics in the Greg Oden Sweepstakes. Besides the Celtics, five of those teams are playing at home tonight. Iâ€™m looking for some Wâ€™s from them.