I'm having fun watching the Celtics again.
There have been some fun moments during this rebuild, but for the most part there's been a whole lot of losses. "Moral victories" are a mediocre-at-best salve for fans. After a while, the losing weighs on you and eats at your soul. If it happens to us fans, imagine what it must do to the players.
Sometimes you need a taste of winning. You need to remember what it feels like to see your team push, kick, and claw their way to the top of the hill and dare the next guy to push them off. The Celtics are currently in a legit playoff race. They are playing with purpose. They've won 7 of their last 10 games. This is just some good old fun basketball.
I know, I know, every loss hurts their lottery chances and potential draft position. I don't really feel like spending too much time on that topic again. All I'll say is that at this point I think we've punted on "tanking." There are too many legit-bad teams out there losing every night. The Celtics got a great deal on adding Isaiah Thomas mid season and he's a good enough piece to help this team win some games. A top 5 pick is highly unlikely at this point so you might as well deal with that reality.
Here's the bottom line for me right now: This team is in a no-lose situation. If they keep on winning, they gain invaluable experience on their way to a playoff berth and at a minimum a first round series on the big stage. If they don't make the playoffs, their consolation prize is a better draft position and some tiny shot at winning the lottery.
The name of the game right now is development, isn't it? We need the young players on the roster to develop into good or great players if we are going to see this team go anywhere in the future. Keep in mind, this is a young, young team. If we were pushing for the playoffs with a Tayshaun Prince and Gerald Wallace getting the bulk of the minutes, I'd allow myself to worry about getting stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity.
But this is a team where a rookie point guard is starting. A 19 year old wing is getting rotation minutes. Nobody in our regular rotation tops 27 years old (edit: sorry, I forgot about Bass). This team is brimming with untapped potential and one of the rising stars happens to be the head coach who's dealt with constant roster turnover and has somehow managed to rally the troops for their best stretch of the season.
We already have some fantastic building blocks on the roster that are only going to get better with age. Even if the team had no draft picks in the next few drafts, you could count on at least some of the players making small or large jumps in their game in the next couple of years. A first round playoff series (even if it is a 4 game sweep) would be a great learning experience for those young guys.
We're about to get a small taste of what that might feel like this week. The schedule has the Warriors up next. They happen to have the best record in the West and have been one of the best teams in all the land this season. After that, the Celtics get to play the Cavaliers who happen to be playing their best ball of the year. Those two teams might end up playing in the NBA Finals and this scrappy young Celtics team gets them in the next 3 days. Conventional wisdom says those are two losses. Even if they squeak out a win (or two) it doesn't mean they are ready to upset a team in the playoffs. But man would that be fun.
This is, after all, about entertainment isn't it? It can't simply be "banner or you failed" every year can it? There's a process here and you want to see the team make progress. We are still very early in the rebuild and if we are going to get some early returns with a string of wins and a playoff race (even if it is in the weak East) that's a lot of fun in my book.
Just look at this team we've got out there right now. None of them is currently a superstar but there's a lot to like.
Thomas (only 26) is that creative, point-getting, force of nature that this team has lacked since Paul Pierce departed for grayer pastures. He's an ideal 6th man and hopefully Tommy can give him one of those "6th man is a long, storied tradition in Boston" speeches to keep him happy in that role.
That's important because the heir apparent is already starting at the point guard spot. Marcus Smart has no fear. Period. He'll take the big shot that is given him. He'll happily defend that best guard on the other team. He's not going to back down from any challenge and he's going to keep getting better and better. He might be our next superstar, but for the moment he's soaking it up and learning every day.
James Young is so ...well, young. He's clearly head and shoulders above the competition at the D-League level and he's earned his place in the current rotation. His shot hasn't been falling lately but I've actually been very impressed with the way he's been contributing in other ways. He's hustling for balls, getting into passing lanes, and working on getting himself into the right spots. From what I've seen he's been taking the right (open) shots, but at the moment they aren't falling for him.
We've already talked about Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. It is a small sample size (in particular for Jerebko) but those guys just seem to have a feel for the game. Crowder reminds me a little bit of James Posey with his timely shooting and effort plays. Jerebko is a Swede-Army Knife of talents. He stretches the floor from the 4 spot and has a nose for getting to the right spots (impressive given the lack of practice time he's had with his new squad).
Kelly Olynyk is due back to the court soon and he will give this team added depth and versatile talent in the frontcourt. Tyler Zeller is a solid pick-and-roll complement to our guards and a hard working legit center that we've needed since forever.
Meanwhile Avery Bradley at age 24 (same age as Jae Crowder) is our longest tenured Celtic and he's still growing as a two way shooting guard. Evan Turner is the definition of a loose cannon but net-net he seems to be a positive to the team.
There's a lot to like about this team right now and the most important thing is that they are winning. Winning cures a lot of ills. It encourages camaraderie. It develops trust. It provides proof and backup to the lessons of "we-not-me" that the coaching staff has been preaching all along. Most of all, however, winning teaches you how to win.
I can't be anything but happy about this latest run of success. It may end up being short lived and it may simply be another brief reprieve from the losing, lottery bound rebuild process we've grown accustomed to the last couple of years. But I've enjoyed watching this team win and I want to see it happen some more.
I'm having fun again and I want more. Go Celtics.