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Tommy Doesn't Like Delonte

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This is just a joke of course, and a play off of Mike Gorman’s comments during the Timberwolves game. But, it also hits a deeper note on this board and amongst the die hard contingent of Celtics fans that have begun to draw proverbial lines in the sand with certain players and in taking certain positions when evaluating this team going forward.

The irony in the opinions stated on this board is in the fact that the longer the losing continues the more divided Celtics Nation becomes. Meanwhile, the actual team has maintained its solidarity and support of each other throughout these difficult times.

At this stage in the development of the team’s youth it is justifiable to entertain a wide range of perspectives when it comes to playing favorites. But only an objective view of these players and their current skill sets, level of development, and ability to complement each other will manifest in an effective view of the teams options going forward. In that light, let us start out with an analysis of the team’s most intriguing youngster to get a feel for where he stands in the greater scheme of things.

(This is a long one, so click Read More to get the full article)

Determining vALue With Deadline Looming

There is a logistical shift in perspective necessary when approaching the next thirty plus games with this team. Most fans have taken this turn quite a while ago, but it needs to be stated nonetheless.

That being said, if the constituency of this board is going to begin to think NBA draft they must take the full turn and start thinking like an NBA GM. The draft is just a part of a general manager’s concerns and is one facet of the long view he must take when determining the construct of his team.

Its natural for Celtics fans at this point to range from questioning to condescending when it comes to Danny Ainge and his decisions while rebuilding this team. Stepping aside from that line of thought, listen to assistant general manager Sam Presti of the San Antonio Spurs as he talks about personnel evaluation.

Every organization has a timeline that they’re currently on. When you’re faced with a decision that could potentially foreclose options, limit flexibility in the future, there really should be a rigid and rigorous checks and balances process to lead you to the question “why would we be doing this? Why is it ok to be sacrificing something further and limit flexibility?” I think in our league obviously flexibility is king. The term “cap space” is thrown around constantly. Yet, how much is it maximized at the end of the day? Those are the risks that have to be weighed. Identifying where you are as an organization. When is it ok and what is the process that leads you to a decision?

This is precisely the situation that Ainge is now facing in all his dealings. NBA management personnel are paid to weigh long-term options and evaluate decisions based off the projected time lines of their team. The further an organization is away from a definitive end-game maneuver for winning a championship, the more flexibility is valued.

This explains to a great extent why the team has been quiet on the free agent market when it comes to mid-level exception acquisitions as well as why many of the team’s trades have involved a pairing down of the payroll and a shortening of the teams heavier financial commitments to big contract players.

The Celtics have used rookie contracts as a means to maintain flexibility while evaluating prospects that would otherwise be outside of their capability to sign on the open market. While the team certainly needs another star caliber player to pair with Pierce, once that player is obtained the team will still require the complementary talent needed to push them over the top.

If looked at as a series of moves in a greater game, the Celtics have acquired a solid set of quality complementary players that would have been cost prohibitive on the open market. By shear volume the team has probably obtained a greater percentage of the pieces to the puzzle by utilizing the draft as a means toward building a contender.

The logical counter point to that is of course the tremendous value that the missing centerpiece player holds and the degree of difficulty one faces in finding him. Drafting in the middle first round and beyond is a numeric improbability, especially if that player is a frontcourt player. Looking at the timeline proposition that Presti mentioned above and applying it to the Celtics takes two distinct forms: Pierce’s age and the expiration of rookie contracts.

Pierce was briefly covered last week and it is apparent to most Celtics fans that the window for building around him as a centerpiece player is a short-term scenario, say three to four years. At that point the organization will have to hope that some amongst its complementary talent will have developed to the point where they can offset Pierce’s decline.

As it stands now, Pierce is the only bona fide star on this team and as such he is the central figure the organization plans its moves around. However, because of the smaller window in which to do this, that plan must account for the time beyond Pierce’s prime. Accounting for the teams developmental players and their time lines and respective progress factors into this equation strongly and has contributed to the “overvaluing” of the youth, as some have put it.

The past two seasons have afforded management a prolonged opportunity to evaluate a number of players on this team. But the window for the first group of these players is now closing. Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Tony Allen, Delonte West, and Sebastian Telfair are all going into the final season of their rookie deals. Every signing signifies a decrease in that flexibility so essential to future movement, but every trade limits these options as well. Effectively determining which young players fit into the bigger picture is a crucial decision for a GM because building a winner goes beyond the two or three best players on a team.

Lesser complementary players may be easier to acquire in terms of market availability, but the salary cap restricts a teams ability to do so. Trading for effective role players can also be difficult because quality role players with an established effectiveness are often not available for trade. These players tend to find there way onto teams by circumstance and considering the volume of role players needed to build a winner compared to the number of stars, it can become just as difficult to add those final pieces as it is to land the big fish.

In the ideal scenario an organization is skillful with its drafting and shrewd with its limited acquisitions, as the Spurs have been over the past decade. The Celtics seem to have put themselves into a decent position in one part of this equation, the acquisition of role players. What the Celtics have been waiting to discover while playing the market is whether or not any of their home-grown prospects has the ability to manifest into the type of star needed to accompany Pierce. After three years of evaluation, two years of accelerated growth, there is only one viable candidate who has emerged from the pack, Al Jefferson.

The following is a comparative analysis on Jefferson to other frontcourt players that have put up comparable statistics to his in the same timeframe. This report was queried and written by Paul Gearan of Rexer Analytics, a die hard constituent of this board.

Jefferson is currently averaging 14 and 10, but as a starter he is closer to 16 and 12, so I think it's safe to say barring injury, he'll probably finish over 15ppg and 10rpg at season's end.

So I pulled down some data and ran a query that looked for all players drafted from 1986 to 2002 (more modern era of slower play overall) who by their third year in the league had at least one season with 15ppg and 10rpg over at least 50 games. This produced the 17 players listed alphabetically by last name below. The data for each includes their ppg and rpg in the season they surpassed both over the first 3 years (or the best season for those who did it more than once in their first 3 years), the age at which they entered the league, their career outcomes thus far, and the team winning percentage the year, or first year, they put up 15ppg, 10rpg.

Summary/My Take:

1) If Boozer and Randolph make the all star team this year as is likely, that will mean 14 of the 17 players made at least one all star team.

2) Only 5 players put up these stats for the first time for winning teams. Most were with mediocre to terrible teams.

3) Kevin Garnett is not on here because he did not manage double figure rebounds until his fourth season when he also topped 20ppg or the first time. Garnett's third year was 18.5ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.6 apg in 39mpg.

4) Shawn Kemp is the only player on the list to start playing in the NBA at age 19, as did Jefferson.

5) Antoine only reached double figure rebounds once in his career and that got him on the list. Certainly playing away from the basket on offense did not help, but even if you just look at defensive boards, Jefferson is outperforming Walker at his best by far on the defensive boards (adjusting for minutes played).

6) The names that probably bolster the argument for inflated stats for bad teams are Seikaly, Walker, Weatherspoon, and Coleman given what we know about these player outcomes. Baker's decline has obvious links to his alcohol abuse, and Ellison and Johnson had injuries that make them difficult to evaluate. Coleman seems a whole different breed as well, and largely destroyed what could have been a great career with his skills. Weatherspoon, like Walker, only surpassed 10rpg (barely at that) one time in his career and was more one of those undersized 4s. Walker, well everyone draws their own judgment about him, a unique player at the very least. Seikaly always seemed the classic good stat guy for bad teams. Never quite all star material: too bad for him he did not play in the post-2000 era he probably would have been at least once.

7) Obviously each player is unique in athleticism and skill set but I think the closest Jefferson comparisons are Kemp (much more athletic than Al of course, but the only high school guy on this list and a mid-first round pick - 17th - like Al), Boozer (not as long as Al, but similar game near the basket and great rebounder), Baker (much longer than Al, very mobile, not quite the rebounder Al is, but a smooth scorer in his prime), a healthy Larry Johnson (although Al does not have Johnson's range), and Randolph. I would say a healthy Al Jefferson probably is most likely to be production-wise in this group with Brand being the highest rung he can shoot for. Shaq, Duncan, Mourning, Mutumbo, and Robinson seem a whole different dimension as does Marion for different reasons.

So would we be happy with a healthy, clean and sober, non-arrested version of Baker, Kemp, Boozer, Johnson, or Randolph in a couple years?

The Players:

1) Vin Baker (ppg:17.7 rpg:10.3) Age:21 4-time all star (Team win %:42%)

2) Carlos Boozer (ppg:15.5 rpg:11.4) Age:21 Probable all star this year (Team win %:43%)

3) Elton Brand (ppg:20.1 rpg:10.1) Age:20 2-time all star (Team win %:18%)

4) Derrick Coleman (ppg:20.7 rpg:11.2) Age:23 1-time all star, major head case (Team win %: 32%)

5) Tim Duncan (ppg:23.2 rpg:12.4) Age:21 8-time all star (Team win %:68%)

6) Pervis Ellison (ppg:20.0 rpg:11.2) Age:22 Injuries damaged promising career (Team win %:30%)

7) Larry Johnson (ppg:22.1 rpg:10.5 ) Age:22 2-time all star, career leveled off, then injuries ended it (Team win %.38%)

8. Shawn Kemp (ppg:15.5 rpg:10.4) Age:19 6-time all star who had too many drugs, children and Cheetos to maintain it (Team win %:57%)

9) Shawn Marion (ppg:17.3 rpg:10.7) Age:21 3-time all star (Team win %:62%)

10) Alonzo Mourning (ppg:21.5 rpg:10.1 ) Age:22 7-time all star (Team win %:54%)

11) Dikembe Mutombo (ppg:16.6 rpg:12.3) Age:25 8-time all star who scored nearly 17ppg his rookie year and never approached that again (Team win %: 29%)

12) Shaq O'Neal (ppg:29.4 rpg:13.2) Age:20 13-time all star (Team win %:50%)

13) Zach Randolph (ppg:20.1 rpg:10.5) Age:20 Possible all star this year, but let's pray Al does not become this in other ways (Team win %:50%)

14) David Robinson (ppg: 24.3 rpg:12.0 ) Age:24 10-time all star (Team win %:68%)

15) Rony Seikaly (ppg:16.4 rpg:11.1 ) Age:23 Lifetime 14.7ppg, 9.5rpg, but mostly for bad to mediocre teams (Team win %: 28%)

16) Antoine Walker (ppg:22.4 rpg:10.2 ) Age:20 3-time "veteran" all star, I'm not opening up this can of worms but Walker only surpassed 10rpg once in his career (Team win %:44%)

17) Clarence Weatherspoon (ppg:18.4 rpg:10.2 ) Age:22 Decent player for first five years on bad teams (Team win %:30%)


If you go down to 14 and 9, since the 1986 draft it only adds 10 more players to the above, 7 of whom are/were all stars (Grant Hill, Garnett, Nowitski, Webber, Gugliotta, Amare and Brad Daugherty), one whose promising career was hurt by serious injuries (LaPhonso Ellis), one good rotational player thus far (Drew Gooden), and one "you gotta be kiddin'!" (Gheorghe Muresan - really, in his third year in Washington he was kind of a force 14.5pg, 9.6rpg, and 2.0bpg, that quickly changed).

So I think that brings our grand total to 21 of 27 of players who averaged 14ppg and 9rpg in at least one of their first 3 seasons from the 1986 to 2002 drafts went onto become all stars, most in multiple years. Among them, and it's tough to project some early careers like Brand, but I'd say there are 8-10 hall of famers in this group. So, there are greater odds of becoming a hall of fame caliber player than failing to make a single all star game. Even among the 6 who failed, Ellison and Ellis had single seasons worthy of all star consideration and if they had remained healthy had a decent shot. Gooden's career is still young, although I doubt he will ever get there, it's not completely impossible. That leaves our confirmed "busts" as Weatherspoon, Muresan (didn't he have bad injuries too?), and Seikaly.

None of this is meant to imply that Jefferson is a sure-fire All Star or a Hall of Fame caliber player. But what it underscores is why Jefferson is so highly regarded by the organization. Trading Jefferson for a more established veteran frontcourt player makes some sense depending on whom that frontcourt player is. But when considering trading him as an option one must factor in the benefits of having one more season to evaluate Jefferson and his developmental progress.

Also considered in this scenario is the opportunity lost by making such a move. Because a team has the ability to re-sign all of its own players in excess of the cap, developmental players become imminently more valuable to an organization while they are on their rookie deals. Organizations with high-end developmental players can utilize their large, moveable contracts and other assets to bring in other larger salaried players who better complement their roster. Since salaries must essentially line up in these types of transactions and because teams most often demand comparable value for their trade assets, it is far easier to “grow” an impact player than it is to trade for one.

Draft picks are typically unproven commodities until they have established some type of benchmark for performance on the NBA level. Until the draft order is established for this season, it is nearly impossible to factor in the pick when making personnel decisions. Known commodities are the currency that GM’s must utilize when building a roster and the less established they are the more of a future’s market these decisions become.

At this point Jefferson can still be categorized as a commodity on the future’s market, but he has an established value and a comparable track record from which to solidify his value that no other prospect on the Celtics enjoys at this moment. Regardless of viewpoint, having Jefferson in hand should make Celtics fans feel somewhat confident in the team’s direction because buy or sell, he should yield a significant return on the teams investment.