It is starting to feel a lot like 2006-07 around here. Think about it. A long losing streak, best player injured (and not exactly rushed back to the court), lots of developing, young talent, and competitive, hard fought losses. That's kind of the model rebuilding year if you think of it from a certain point of view.
First of all you've got the long losing streak. I'm not the only one who thinks it seems familiar.
"I’ve been through 18 of this," he said recently. The "this" that he’s speaking of is losses, and the Celtics lost that many in a row — a franchise record — during his rookie season in 2006-07. The Celtics’ longest losing streak since that skid now stands at eight after the team lost, 112-104, to the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday at the Moda Center here.
Rondo has been through this, so he knows the drill. The thing about that 06-07 team was that they really gave a good effort most of the time. I really respected that team and enjoyed watching the "kids" grow up. The record didn't reflect it, but they came to play and fans connected with that. I think there's a very similar feel to this team.
Rajon also knows how quickly things can turn around in one offseason. That is the kind of perspective that makes me believe that he'll be patient with this team for the remainder of the year. He'll be competitive and he'll fight and scrap for every win. He'll probably even get ornery if and when things don't go his way from time time. But big picture, long term, I think he'll get it.
Of course I'm not going to suggest that he'll be on board with some conspiracy tanking plan. Far from it. From the coaching staff down to the players, everyone is focused on getting better and winning basketball games. As they should be.
"We’re not getting what we want, and I’m sick about that. But at the end of the day, laying down is not an option. And doing things and continuing to go after it every day is what you do when things are tough."
Things are pretty bleak at the moment. They were sub-.500 when things were going well, and now that they've come back down to Earth, ...well, it isn't pretty.
Stevens said he’s trying to figure out why the Celtics undergo long stretches of scorelessness (I’m inventing words now to describe their droughts), but a look at the roster should provide obvious answers. Their leading scorer, Jeff Green, can disappear for quarters at a time. Jordan Crawford has fallen off the magic carpet he rode for the first part of the season, Avery Bradley still takes too many midrange jumpers and can’t get many easy points at the rim, and the bench includes a host of non-shooters who teams can sag off. Scoring doesn’t come easily to these Celtics, and it didn’t even when they were playing pretty well earlier in the season.
With all of that said, they probably aren't as bad as they've been playing lately. In fact, if you happen to add one player, who happens to be one of the best distributors in the game, to the mix, it will probably make them better. The Celtics are ranked at the bottom of the league in assists. Think adding Rajon Rondo might change that a bit?
Make no mistake, Rondo is going to make things better. Maybe even dramatically better. Perhaps to the point where they are "too good" from a draft position standpoint.
It’s possible that a Rondo-led Celtics team could be just good enough to sneak through the flotsam of the Eastern Conference and make a playoff push. With the Hawks and Nets both on track to make the playoffs that would push them out of the lottery. (The Hawks have the right to swap first rounders with Brooklyn, leaving the C’s with the least favorable of the two selections). But unless they shore up their interior defense, that doesn’t seem to be too large a concern. In many ways the Celtics season will officially start when Rondo makes his return. They hope to have a lot more clarity when it’s over.
So things are about to get very interesting around here. The team will have a few weeks to take inventory of how the various pieces fit around Rondo and then the trade deadline will be upon us. Things could go in any number of different directions at that point.
Or maybe it will just be more of the same. Rondo is good enough to win some games almost single-handed. But even when he was surrounded by Hall of Famers there were times when the offense couldn't get going and the team would struggle for long stretches at a time. We might just have to settle in for more competitive, hard fought losses. Maybe that's for the best.