The Celtics have lost 7 straight games to NBA caliber teams (the Sixers win doesn't qualify) and the team is looking and sounding very frustrated. Fans are also tugging at their collars and grumbling about this or that. It is early yet, so few are actually hitting the panic button, but this town doesn't like losing and patience isn't our strongest quality.
The temptation here would be to go all #hotsportstake and seek out a pound of flesh in some poor scapegoat. But that serves no purpose other than to earn Gary Tanguay and the radio guys their next paychecks.
So here I stand, ringing my bell, wearing my sandwich board sign that reads "The end is NOT near." I'm preaching a decidedly non-fire-and-brimstone message of patience and trusting in the process.
Let's take a step back and ponder our situation. Entering the season, expectations for win totals were low, but there was always a hope that the team would surprise people and follow in the Suns footsteps from last year. Never mind the fact that the Suns were so surprising specifically because projected lottery teams rarely win 48 games. The Celtics have been playing some of the better teams in the league recently and haven't been favored to win a game in a while. So at worst, the Celtics are who we thought they were.
Taking another step back, it helps to understand that this was all part of the plan. Not a "tanking" plan mind you. Just another stage in the rebuilding effort. Blessedly the "T" word hasn't been quite the buzz around here that it was most of last year. We can thank the Sixers for looking around like Mick Dundee saying "That's not a tank,... THIS is a tank."
The point is that this team is filled with young guys with more potential than experience. This team is filled with movable assets that may or may not make sense on the court together. This team was constructed for an end goal that isn't entirely clear. It isn't that the team has no plan, it is just that the plan can and will change depending on the circumstances.
Danny Ainge is playing chess and he's got a lot of pawns to work with but few pieces of royal nature. The end goal is to win the game, but there are a number of different ways to accomplish that end and Ainge has to be flexible enough to take what comes. Unfortunately that means fielding a team that's sum of it's assets adds up to more than the team as a whole.
Now that we've taken the proper steps back to gain perspective, let's step back closer to the frame to appreciate the detail.
We've got a coach that is lauded far and wide and he's installing an overall system that has worked for him at the lower level and has a pretty good chance of working here, adapted for the NBA. We've got a point guard who's got his faults, but is mostly brilliant and makes those on the court with him play better much of the time. We've got several players who haven't even scratched their primes yet but have already proven that they can play and excel on this level.
Yes, November was brutal, but December features a lot more games against lottery projected teams. Like a shooter who's gone cold, sometimes you just need a layup or free throw to get the groove back. Not that any of these teams should be taken lightly. It is just that I like our chances of holding onto a lead against the Hawks much better than the Spurs.
They've had just over a month to get to know each other and understand Brad Stevens' gameplan for the year. The same gameplan that Coach Popovich lauded recently. The team has had encouraging moments along the way, but the wins haven't happened lately. I think soon they'll break through and maybe even start their own little winning streak. I'm not sure if that will mean a run at the playoffs (though the East is looking weaker than ever) but it could at least mean progress.
Also, between now and the February trade deadline, we'll hear plenty of rumors. A lot of them will surround Rajon Rondo, but Ainge has assured everyone that he's not being shopped and rumors indicate that the price would be high if anyone insisted on making an offer.
What I'm more focused on is bringing another start player to pair with Rondo. That may not be feasible this season because you have to have one of those types of players pop up on the market. Still, just about every year a star does become available - sometimes unexpectedly. The teams that benefit are the ones that have the flexibility and assets to take advantage.
Finally, if all else fails, next summer is another re-boot opportunity. Several of the veteran contracts are expiring which leaves us with an opportunity to craft a competitive team which will hopefully be centered around Rondo and another star (or two?) and some of the best young players already on the team. They'll have another couple of draft picks to work with as well. This summer could very well be another monumental turning point in the franchise.
For the time being, however, this young team is simply learning the hard way exactly what it takes to win in the NBA. They'll get there, sooner or later.