When it's all said and done the 2006/2007 season will go down in history as one of the Boston Celticsâ€™ worst. The organization was rocked by the loss of Red Auerbach and Dennis Johnson, debilitating injuries, and one epic losing streak. And yet there is still a buzz surrounding the team. For whatever reason â€" Al Jeffersonâ€™s emergence as a double-double machine, Delonte Westâ€™s strong showing since the All Star Break, glimpses of the future from Rajon Rondo and Gerald Green, the lure of a potentially high draft pick, or blind loyalty â€" Celtics fans have not quit.
However, while the fan base remains invested, debates rage about the ideal outcome of games. There are those who refuse to accept moral victories, believe strongly in learning how to win, and desperately want to finish the season on a high note in preparation for next year. The middle of the road fans also enjoy Celtics victories but simultaneously accept losses, provided the team works hard and the young players develop. Finally, there is a contingent of fans that openly roots against the team. They happily discuss fantanking, ping-pong balls, lottery percentages, college phenoms, the detrimental results of meaningless victories, and Doc Riversâ€™ recent coaching strategies. In sum they argue that a top two pick is the only way to drastically improve the fate of the franchise.
Â Ultimately, even in light of the aforementioned reasons for optimism and the fractured fan base, this season has been all about Paul Pierce. It is easy to forget now, but Pierce started the season in phenomenal shape. He complemented his regular stellar offensive play by grabbing 7.4 rebounds per game before the foot injury. In his absence the team went from bad to atrocious, losing 20 of 22 games. Eventually Pierce brought credibility back to the lineup even as he struggled with conditioning issues. And over the last few weeks his presence finally translated into victories. His influence has been both direct â€" scoring 19 points in the first half against Dallas, taking a game clinching charge in the waning moments against San Antonio, running more, and unleashing several â€œIâ€™m Paul Pierceâ€ moments â€" and subtle â€" accepting Jeffersonâ€™s expanded role in the offense, getting inside Josh Smithâ€™s head, and working more vigilantly to keep his shorts from falling down.
Now with 13 games remaining Celtics fans are faced with an interesting dilemma. Where do they stand on Paul Pierce? Yes his shot selection can be dubious and he should refrain from dribbling for prolonged periods of time. But he is the captain, the teamâ€™s best player, and a guy that takes a beating, yet always plays hard. So when Pierce says a draft pick is not the answer or discusses shutting it down for the season, Celtics fans take notice and choose sides. In a way Pierce has become the most divisive member of the Celtics in regards to the teamâ€™s future. Just look at the rest of the schedule and consider the following questions. How many of the remaining games look like wins with Pierce? How many look like wins without him?
In the end it comes down to how fans feel about last nightâ€™s loss to the Bobcats. Even Bill Simmons, the creator and leader of the fantanking movement, admits it was tough to watch. But was that an aberration or a precursor for the final four weeks of the season? If the answer is the latter, it is at the very least a controversial approach for a franchise and a fan base still trying to recover from a previous ping-pong quest. On the flipside the San Antonio Spurs are not giving any of those championships back. But if last night foreshadows the remainder of the season and the Celtics somehow end up with Joakim Noah and Jared Dudley (in the tradition of Ryan Gomes and Leon Powe), what is left? Under this hypothetical, though not unrealistic, scenario Danny Ainge would have to consider trading Paul Pierce . Given Aingeâ€™s past deals and the growing tradition of superstars fetching surprisingly less value in return, that possibility looms as yet another disaster. And thatâ€™s the truth.