In the days since Rajon Rondo's season-ending ACL injury, Celtics coach Doc Rivers hasn't locked his staff in a room, hoping to recreate the wheel, and he hasn't called players into his office, complicating anyone's role.
In some ways, Rondo's absence simplifies his team. The second unit's dumbed-down spread offense -- spacing shooters on the perimeter and handing the ball off to initiate movement -- becomes the entire team's offensive game plan. Rather than replace Rondo's extraordinary decision-making ability, Rivers eliminated most decisions.
“To be honest, I think everybody was in a fog almost,” said Kevin Garnett. “I think it’s kind of settling in, and I think everybody is trying to put their arms around the concept that he’s actually hurt -- and hurt to the point where he can’t play. That’s what had everybody in a fog, even him. He came in this morning, and seeing him in there was kind of unreal. The fact that it is real, everybody is going to consolidate and pick up the pieces and try to carry this thing.”
While the Celtics organization faces plenty of complicated questions in the coming weeks and months, Rivers prefers to keep the answers simple to what's under his control. Easier said than done when your All-Star point guard tears his ACL.
"There's a lot of adjustments, but you've got to be careful with your play-calling," said the C's coach. "You simplify it, you let them play through space and just take it from there. ...
"I don't sit down and whine a lot. No one's going to hear it, clearly not the other teams, but I do think we can be really good. We’ll be a little different, but I do think we can be really good, because I like our guys on our team."
Who plays point guard?
"We were already doing it a lot with the second unit," said Rivers. "The first unit was watching what we were doing with the ball movement. It was a no-point-guard system with that unit. That unit was becoming very successful. Now, the entire team does that. We did it once so far against Miami, and so now we just have to get better at it.”
The Celtics coach likened this strategy to one he implemented with Darrell Armstrong, Grant Hill and Mike Miller during the 2002-03 season, when Orlando ranked sixth in points per game and 10th in offensive efficiency. No sweat. Of course, that team finished 42-40 and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
"This is just basketball," said Rivers. "There's no point guard. It's just basketball by committee. I had some teams in Orlando ... it didn't hurt us at all. We scored a ton of points. We just didn't have a lot more talent after that."
Who brings up the ball?
"I think it’s going to go game-to-game in that way," said Rivers, "and that’s the adjustment."
He compared this dilemma to the 1990s Bulls, who relied on B.J. Armstrong, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen to bring the ball up, depending on where opposing defenses pressured the ball. A walk in the park. In that sense, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Paul Pierce will share those duties among the starters while Leandro Barbosa, Jason Terry and Jeff Green do the same on the second unit.
"Before, it didn't matter. You gave that no thought. Rondo was bringing the ball up," said Rivers. "Now, we have to really be focused on where their pressure is coming from. Think back to the Bulls with Michael. They had three guys. As a player, if we pressured B.J. Armstrong, Michael brought it up. If we pressured Michael, Scottie brought it up. It’s not that hard to do. It’s just different for us."
What about the transition game?
Not a problem.
"We go back to the old Celtics, back with Danny [Ainge] and D.J. [Dennis Johnson], where they were advancing with the pass," said Rivers. "They couldn't advance with speed -- tell Danny I said that -- so they had to use the pass. The pass is faster than the dribble anyway."
Tommy Heinsohn must be ecstatic. For years, he's been pleading the Celtics to run like they did in the '80s. Child's play.
Does Pierce's role change?
Not at all.
"I’m one of the playmakers on this team, I create offense for guys, and it just enhances now that Rondo’s out," Pierce said before Tuesday's practice. "I’m given more responsibilities in that area when he’s not playing, but I’m more than capable of doing it. I’ve done it a lot of times, so it’s here for the rest of the season."
When Rondo's been hurt or suspended in the past, Pierce's assists climb. It doesn't take Stephen Hawking to figure out that equation. All the Celtics captain has to do over the next 38 games is replicate what the game's two brightest stars do for their respective teams.
"I don’t think Miami worries about running too much offense through LeBron [James], I don’t think the Lakers worry about running too much offense through Kobe [Bryant] and just go down the list, so why should we worry about running too much offense through Paul?" said Rivers. "You know what I mean? I don’t think that’s a problem at all."
Does Lee's role change?
"I don't see my role changing at all," said Lee, who will start in place of Rondo. "I just feel that the minutes are going to be more, but everything else you just have to go out there and do a little bit better and do a little bit harder. On the offensive end, Rondo's a playmaker, and so now we just have to be able to execute a little bit sharper."
In more minutes, play better, play harder and play sharper. Elementary, my dear Earl Watson.
Does Barbosa's role change?
"I’m not Rajon Rondo," said the veteran guard. "I’m Leandro Barbosa, so my game is totally different than his game and what he does for the team. As far as myself and what I can do for the team, for sure it's my best."
Talk about simple. When Barbosa "backed up" Steve Nash in Phoenix, the two-time NBA MVP point guard missed 26 total games when the Suns made three Western Conference finals appearances in six seasons from 2005-10, so the Brazilian Blur has at least some experience in this regard. Except, the Suns finished 9-17 without Nash, who never missed more than eight games in a season during that span.
"I will try to do my best, but I'm not a point guard," added Barbosa. "I'm a shooting guard, and if Doc wants to put me in that situation to play the point guard, I will try. I will do my best, but I’m not Rajon Rondo."
Does Bradley's role change?
Not even close.
"There really are no different roles," said Rivers. "That's the point I'm making. There literally are no different roles. I don't want a guy to now think he's Rondo or anything like that. Everybody's going to play their same role. The only different thing is someone else may bring the ball up and then pass it. That's the only difference. That's it."
Does Terry's role change?
Maybe a little bit.
"We'll be giving the ball to Jason Terry off some ball screens more, having him come off the pick-and-roll a little bit more," said Pierce. "We’re just going to have to find a variety of ways to create our offense now that Rondo’s out."
So, the offense hinges on increasing the playing time of a guy coming off his worst shooting month since February 2000?
"I think consistency always helps," added Rivers. "I think it'll help JET in some ways, just because he'll have the ball at times probably more. And it may hurt some guys. You just don't know. That's the unanswered question."
There you have it. In theory, the answers are easy, but the hard part is building an offense without "your best player" -- as Pierce described the C's injured point guard -- that blends aspects of the 1980s Celtics, the '90s Bulls, the Lakers of the 2000s and the defending NBA champion Heat. Maybe that's why Garnett laughed in the media's face when a reporter suggested these C's could be better without Rondo.
"What are you looking for, a ray of hope here, man?" asked Garnett. "I’m just trying to give y’all a basis of what it is right now amongst us and our mindset taking on this big agenda."
When the media pressed on the possibility that the Celtics perhaps relied too much on Rondo, KG wasn't having it.
"We trust Rondo with the ball -- whatever he’s doing, whatever he’s calling. Sometimes, we look at him sideways, like, 'Why’d you call that?' Other than that, we run it. Not only do we respect the young guy, but we believe in him, so there's no false hope in none of that."
No complications. No false hope. Just basketball. Just the way Rivers likes it.