Feeling better more than a week later?
Headaches nearly gone? No more ringing in the ears? How about the double vision?
OK, then. It seems that you are in recovery from what is known as a Sports Fan Concussion. (Yes, also known as SFC, though SFC also is a well-known acronym for Saget For Congress. Very confusing. Maybe we should move on before this turns overly political. After all, WEEI is a home for sports talk, not a pulpit for the right or left wings.)
What exactly causes the SFC still is a matter of debate in the medical field, but most experts agree that if the team you are rooting for gives up an 83-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and falls behind by 24 points in the first quarter of a playoff game, there is a pretty good chance that your wife will be standing over you with the “Will he ever be able to identify what day of the week it is again?” look that Brenda Warner wisely patented six years ago.
But it’s been eight days. I know in this day and age we are more sensitive than ever to concussions (and correctly so), but it’s time to test the sea legs again, right? The Patriots are done and the Red Sox are a few months away from what should another riveting best-of-21 spring training series with the Twins.
And I get it, you need a bridge to the summer. Something to take you from the NFL playoffs to Act II of the MLB season. And you aren’t ready to put your faith in the hands of a team that has not won a Stanley Cup since the year Rodney Harrison was born.
So, stretch out those hammies and get ready to jump on the Banner 18 bandwagon. Still plenty of room, as some folks will never get next to the idea that the NBA can be entertaining even when the score is 72-66 with four minutes left.
Call this a 2009-10 Boston Celtics State of the Union, a look at where they are and where they will go. There's no better time to do this, with the Mavericks in town tonight and games against the Trail Blazers, Magic, Hawks and Lakers over the next two weeks. All of this comes straight from the mind of a man that has the NBA League Pass AND an autographed poster of Hubie Brown in his guest bathroom.
Oh, and put on a helmet before you jump on the bandwagon, would you? Another SFC and you’re on the sideline for at least a month. So, here we go …
(And yes, I realize that WEEI.com has a pair of Celtics beat writers in Paul Flannery and Jess Camerato who do a terrific job and know far more about this team than do I. How about humoring me for the next 1,000 words, though? It’s freeing to write about something other than Laurence Maroney or the Baseball Hall of Fame. Let me live for a few hours.)
Is Kevin Garnett hurt, or really hurt? The guy who carried them in 2007-08 is gone forever, right? And is there really a need for the Celtics to be so secretive about what is going on with this injury? We aren’t talking about The Cuban Missile Crisis here.
Guess we aren’t going to bury the lead. The Celtics can win somewhere between 50-55 games and maybe take a playoff series without Garnett. But, as we learned last season, there is no chance for a title without KG in the lineup. That would be, ironically, one thing that is “Not Possiblllllllllllllllle.”
And that’s not to suggest that Garnett is the same player who arrived in Boston 2-1/2 years ago. His points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game have gone down in each of his three seasons with the Celtics.
Even if he were healthy, you’d be looking at the beginning of the end. No 33-year-old has played in as many NBA games (1,157 combined regular-season and playoff games). But he’s still a 16-8-3 guy who shoots 55 percent from the floor and can be a force defensively.
The Garnett we saw before he was hurt this season still is a top-30 player in the league. The question of the year for this team is if that is enough.
I know it’s easy to blame the Patriots for their influence on the recent failure of pro sports teams to disclose exactly how serious injuries are to certain players. (Wow — how awkward was that sentence? You get the point, at least. I hope.) But come on — I remember Larry Bird being listed as “day-to-day” in the early 1990s as he spent nights in traction. This stuff is nothing new. On the other hand, listing Tony Allen’s Basketball IQ as “doubtful” before each game is being too optimistic, I think.
How about the rest of the “Big Three*”? Anything new there?
I know it’s hard to believe, but Paul Pierce quietly is having his most efficient season. He’s averaging just 12.3 shots per game (lowest of his career) but is shooting 46.4 percent from the floor (career average 44.4), 46.7 on 3-pointers (third in the league, not too shabby for a career 36.9 3-point shooter) and 84 percent from the line (career average is 80 percent).
His game no longer is built around working his way to the foul line (just 6.1 attempts per game this season, tied for second-lowest of his career). It’s now a series of pull-up jumpers and setting up other guys for shots. It’s not dissimilar to what Michael Jordan did in his final years with the Bulls after his legs were shot (and no — I’m not comparing Pierce to Jordan). It's been fun to watch the transformation over the past few years.
Pierce is another health risk to be sure, and I don’t understand why he’s averaging nearly 36 minutes a game. If I’m Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge, there is no way that he plays more than 30. Remember, this is the oldest 32-year-old in the world (not counting anyone in pro wrestling, porn or real estate).
And if limiting Pierce’s minutes would cost the Celtics, say, three wins for the rest of the season but keep him fresh for the playoffs, isn’t it worth it? This is a veteran team. Does it really matter if the C's are the No. 2 seed or the 3 seed?
Ray Allen has stayed healthy, but I think his decline has finally begun. His 3-point percentage is way down (35.6 percent, which would be for the worst of his career) and his 16.2 ppg is the second lowest of his career. He's a Hall of Famer and a really good Celtic, but the reality of the situation is that 34-year-old jump shooters never produce like they did when they were 28.
(And it doesn’t get better at 35, of course, and I’m pretty sure that old jump shooter Danny Ainge knows this. I’m sure that the Celtics like Allen and are grateful for his contributions (I still think he was the Finals MVP in 2008, not Pierce), but I’d be stunned if they re-sign Allen after this season. It's tough in a salary cap sport to pay someone for what they have done, not for what they will do. Not a Jason Varitek situation. I’m sure they’d bring him back for a one-year deal at the mid-level exception, but I can’t believe Allen would be interested in that.
One other quick Allen note, or reason No. 24,448 why you can never trust Wikipedia. According to Wiki, Chasey Lain’s first interracial scene was with Mr. Marcus in 2005’s “Black in White 2.” Well, everyone knows that Chasey and Jill Kelly were the two girls who, uh, encouraged Jesus Shuttlesworth to attend Big State. And you wonder why the old-school media thumbs its nose at Wikipedia. Terrible mistake.
And somewhere in the attic my old VCR is still recovering from a 1999 that saw an endless two-tape rotation of “He Got Game” and “Disclosure.” If that VCR were a starting pitcher, it would have logged about 350 innings.)
Garnett (and Pierce) are hurt and Allen is having his worst season in a decade. I’ll buy all that. So how is it possible that the Celtics are 27-11 and leading the Atlantic Division by 7-1/2 games?
Rajon Rondo. And a truly lousy Eastern Conference.
I admit that I’ll never fully “get” Rondo. Stuff like the full-back tattoo with his initials and the trash talking with Chris Paul bothers me. It really does. And I know that’s my problem and that I’m out of touch with the modern athlete. Agreed.
I’ve written a lot about this guy over the past couple of years and most of it, I think, has been fair. The foul shooting, the lack of a jump shot, not a “true” point guard. All those are still true now (worst 3-point shooting and free throw shooting percentages of his career, and his 2.9 turnovers per game is also a career worst), but the 2009-10 Celtics would be toast without this guy.
Let’s focus on what he does do well. He scores (14 ppg on 53 percent shooting), rebounds well for his position and leads the Eastern Conference in assists. And if he isn’t the NBA Defensive Player of the Year (leading the league in steals), he’ll finish in the top three or four.
I’m getting used to the fact that he’ll never be John Stockton (who had his initials tattooed only on the lower half of his back — that’s right, you know what I mean). As I write this on Jan. 17, 2010, the one player who is most valuable to the 2009-10 Boston Celtics is not Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen. It is a 6-foot-1 guard who shoots 18.9 percent for 3's and 58.6 percent from the foul line.
And I once wrote that Rajon Rondo could never be the best player on a good team. Well, to quote Jerry Orbach from "Dirty Dancing," “When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.”
(Yeah, that’s right, I quoted "Dirty Dancing." I’m a fan. It’s even possible that I spent 99 cents to grab “She’s Like the Wind” on iTunes. Or was it “Hungry Eyes?” OK, it’s both, dammit!)
I shouldn’t leave Kendrick Perkins out of this, by the way. You know when a team would draft a high school center and implore the fans to be patient for three or four seasons while the kid learns the NBA game and grows into his body? Well, it actually happened and paid off with Perkins, which is almost a miracle when you consider the dozens of stiffs who went straight from high school to the NBA.
Perkins is now just a solid top-10 center in the league, a 12-8 guy who will block a couple of shots a night. Oh, and did I mention that he leads the league in shooting percentage? He already plays like a 10-year veteran and should be, with Rondo, a nice piece to have when the rebuilding starts in a couple of years. I could live without the technical fouls, but in reality 15 T's a year is a small tradeoff for 2,500 minutes of good play at center.
(And yes, if you haven’t watched the Celtics too much this season, they still are ruthless with the refs. Perkins, Garnett, Pierce, Wallace, Rondo, even Doc. And all that bitching and moaning have managed to change a grand total of zero calls from a referee. But still they try.)
What move is Danny Ainge going to make? Who is this year’s P.J. Brown?
Or Stephon Marbury?
To be fair, Danny hasn’t exactly been on a roll since the Celtics won a title two years ago. I know he hasn’t had the highest of draft picks, but Bill Walker (via a trade), J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson? Not exactly the same as draft-day trades for Rondo (picked 21st) and Perkins (27th). Nope, these picks are reminiscent of Red Auerbach’s string of stifferoos in the early 1980s (Charles Bradley, Darren Tillis, Greg Kite and Michael Young from 1981-84.)
And guess what killed the Celtics in the mid- to late '80s? No bench. If one or two of those guys turned into a decent role player it might have meant another title. And guess what is hurting the Celtics now? Yup, no bench.
I think Danny is going to stand pat and hope Marquis Daniels comes back and stays healthy for the rest of the year. Why wouldn’t he? He’s played more than 60 games a whopping one time in his seven-year career. The closet he’ll ever be to an Iron Man is if he gets a picture with Robert Downey Jr. before a Lakers game. Daniels doesn't have a killer contract, though, and maybe he helps this team in the playoffs.
The other big offseason get was Rasheed Wallace, who we know now does nothing but stand behind the 3-point line and fire away. Do you realize that he averages more attempted 3's per game (4.9) than rebounds (4.5)? He’s Scal with a gray spot.
In his career, 23.3 percent of Sheed’s field goal attempts have been 3-pointers. This season? It's 53.4 percent. And he’s only making 30 percent! I know he’s had a couple of decent nights, but he’s been only a little better than a flop to this point.
So, can this team win a title?
An Atlantic Division title? You bet. Oh, sorry, you were thinking of something else?
This is a team that has way too many “ifs.” If Garnett and Pierce are healthy. If Allen can get his shooting touch back. If Wallace can become the quality role player off the bench that he was with the Pistons. If Daniels can stay on the court and find his role in the rotation.
And all the “ifs” need to work to have just a chance to win a title. They would need to get past two of the other three Eastern Conference A-listers and the Lakers to get to No. 18.
This is how it works when the core gets older. Two years ago, the Celtics won 66 games. Last year, 62 games. This year, they are on pace for about 58 wins. Next year, Garnett probably will miss even more time. Allen will be gone, Pierce another year older. Who knows what the bench will look like? They’ll struggle, I bet, to even win 50 games. Another year after that, and they are just like everyone else.
We saw the same slow decline with the Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish teams (in a five-year span, those C's went from the best team of all-time to just hoping they got by the Pacers in the first round). It’s just how it goes.
My best guess for this season is 56 wins and the No. 2 seed in the East. They’ll beat the Bulls in the first round and find a way to beat the Hawks in the second round before losing in six to the Cavs in the conference finals. No shame in that, and one thing we’ve learned from this group over the past two-plus years is that they will go down fighting. OK, that and they will never stop tormenting the refs.
But it'll be five months worth watching. If all you want is a bridge, you could do much worse.