Is it fair to call a season that saw the Boston Celtics win 50 games and the Atlantic Division (by 11 games) a disappointment?
You and I know the answer, of course, is "yes." This season was work for the Celtics fan. The joy of two years ago is gone. Goodbye to Ubuntu and hello to Rasheed Wallace. Never has 50 wins felt so close to utter failure.
With all that in mind, let's take a look at the regular-season grades for the 2009-10 Boston Celtics.
Michael Finley (A-)
Come on, who didn't expect Finley to wind up at the head of the class when the Celtics signed him on March 5? OK, at the time he was A) a day shy of his 37th birthday and B) a few days removed from being released by the Spurs after shooting just 38 percent in 25 games and looking like he was perhaps better suited to throw on a matching bow tie and swap fake laughs with Bruce Bowen in an ESPN studio.
Listen, Finley hasn't played at an MVP level during his six weeks in Boston. This grade, of course, is in large part because of his performance vs. the low expectations when he was signed. Did anyone really think Finely was going to shoot 51.3 percent from the floor (nearly 48 percent on three-pointers) and actually move his way into lineup in crucial spots? He'll get his opportunity to find a way into the playoff rotation, and if he shoots well will play 15-20 minutes a game.
You could argue that Finley has given the Celtics more production in 21 games than Rasheed Wallace, Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson combined for the entire 2009-10 season. The one veteran brought in by Danny Ainge that actually panned out this season was the one that was doubted the most at the time of the signing.
Rajon Rondo (A-)
The MVP of the Celtics this season, no arguments allowed. If he had blown out his ACL in the season opener I guess the team makes the playoffs, but barely.
I'm sure he won't win Defensive Player of the Year (that''ll be Dwight Howard's real estate for the next decade or so) but Rondo deserves some consideration. Heading into the regular season finale Wednesday night he had 188 steals, 38 more than any other player in the league. Stephen Curry, second in the league with the 150 steals, was actually closer to 18th spot than he was to Rondo.
(Anyone else have a candidate for Most Fascinating Player to Watch Over the Next Decade? I'm talking about any team in the city. Is there any direction that Rondo's career would go that would shock you? I mean, he's just as likely to be First-Team All-NBA in 2013-14 as he is to average 11 points for a 28-54 team before demanding a trade in the offseason. I still can't figure the guy out, and I'm bet I won't until the Big Three* are gone and the ship is his.)
Paul Pierce (B+)
I've been pleasantly surprised by the evolution of Pierce as an offensive player. In 2002-03 he shot 41.6 percent from the floor (30.2 on three-pointers.) His numbers were actually worse a year later. At the time, it was fair to wonder if he had the kind of game that would age well.
His game has actually pulled a Marisa Tomei, looking better as it ages (minus the glorious nude scenes.) This season was easily his most efficient, taking just 12.2 shots per game (career low) to average 18.3 PPG. Not hard to do when you set career highs in shooting, free throw and three-point field goal percentages.
(The only way the Celtics make a real run in the playoffs (and I define "real run" as two series wins with a competitive effort in the Eastern Conference Finals) is if Pierce carries them for three weeks. I don't see any other scenario with this group.)
Kendrick Perkins (B)
Just a solid, leave-alone guy in the middle. He plays his 25-30 minutes, gives you a 10-8, shoots 60 percent, works his tail off on defense and never gets hurt. If I'm Doc Rivers I'll trade 15 technical fouls a season for all of that.
Ray Allen (B-)
If we are grading only on post-All-Star break work Allen (52.4 percent shooting, 40.3 percent on three-pointers and nearly 96 percent from the line) would be looking at an "A." But his shoddy first half brings him down.
I have no idea if the possibility of being traded had any impact on Allen's play, I really don't. He has claimed that it didn't, and I have to go along with that. It's not like we are talking about a second-year player here, Allen has probably heard his name talked in trade circles about ten million times during his career. My best guess is that he happened to find his shooting stroke at the same time the deadline passed. One of those random flukes that works out nicely for the media.
Kevin Garnett (B-)
Garnett is now officially into Act III of his career, and it'll be interesting to watch and see if he can remain productive for the life of his contract (runs through 2011-12.) If Doc (or Danny, or Thibodeau or whoever else you want to throw on the dart board) keeps him to 25-28 minutes a game I think he'll still be a 12-7 guy, shooting over 50 percent plus the defense. Might not be pretty to watch and it might be for only 65 games a year, but that's reality when you trade for a guy that played nearly 35,000 minutes (regular season and playoffs) before his 30th birthday.
Tony Allen (C+)
Has developed into a (gulp) useful role player. As dopey as this sounds, he's actually a good player as long as the basketball isn't in his hands.
Glen Davis (C-)
Give Davis this: the guy leaves it on the court. And maybe it's unfair to judge Large Infant against what he did in the playoffs last season (15-5-2,) but this was simply a lost season. After missing the first 27 games following an off-court fight just a couple of days before the season opener, Davis just never seemed to fit in after he returned. A one-year drop from postseason standout to battling Shelden Williams for playing time is not what you want from a 24-year-old.
Brian Scalabrine (C-)
Gets a bump for gutting it out with a separated shoulder this season, and I also think he has improved as a defensive player (of course, he has the benefit of being compared to Rasheed Wallace, maybe the worst off-the-ball defender I've ever seen.) But if Scal is only going to shoot 33.8 percent from the field there isn't going to be much use for him in any meaningful situation.
Shelden Williams (C-)
One of the few Duke players that passes the "Could I resist pulling a Desmond on John Locke car crash if given the opportunity?", which must count for something. As a Celtic, he has been almost exactly what I expected -- a total pro, ready to play whenever asked, but hugely limited offensively.
Marquis Daniels (D+)
I had some doubts about the Rasheed signing, but I have to confess that I thought Daniels was a can't miss when the Celtics added him in the offseason. His ability to score, defend and play several positions (including backing up Rajon Rondo) screamed "final piece of the puzzle." But it was just a bad fit. Wrong team, wrong time, and definitely wrong coach (it seems that Doc has zero confidence in Daniels.) Maybe he finds the right spot next season, becomes that player we saw in Dallas and helps a contender, but I suspect that there's a better chance M.L. Carr is named player-coach of the Celtics than there is of Daniels returning to Boston.
Nate Robinson (D+)
Nate Robinson with the Celtics: 41.0 shooting percentage, 42.5 three-point percentage.
Eddie House with the Knicks: 33.1 shooting percentage, 25.0 three-point percentage.
I still think there might be value in Robinson. He brings something to the team that no one else has, at least among the bench crew. Like House, he can give a team 10 points in four minutes. And just like Eddie, you know almost immediately if you are getting Good Nate or Bad Nate. But it seems that Doc has almost no interest in finding out if Good Nate might come out and help in the postseason. And to be fair, Robinson has done nothing to earn that kind of currency from the coaching staff.
(By the way, I miss Eddie House's kid more than Eddie himself. My favorite moment of the 2008 title run was 'Lil Eddie running out onto the court after a Laker timeout in Game 6 and getting into the face of Sasha Vujacic. The Lakers were down about 90 points at the time and Sasha seemed almost resigned to the taunting, like he fully expected a four-year old kid in a giant Eddie House game jersey to berate him at midcourt.)
Rasheed Wallace (D)
What's left to say? I suppose he could salvage his season (to some extent) if he plays well in the playoffs, but wouldn't that almost confirm the theory that he has pulled off one of the all-time "Who gives a crap?" regular seasons?
Doc Rivers (C-)
I can't blame Doc for taking a look around that locker room and thinking, "You know, living in Orlando and working for TNT once a week doesn't sound terrible right about now." Let's face it, the Celtics are probably going to lose 60 games in a season before they win 60 again.
This hasn't been Doc's best season on the bench, obviously. I think he's shaky in close games and gives certain guys (Wallace and Rondo) too much rope. And to be fair the team sure seem to lack motivation for long stretches. But he didn't sign Rasheed and Daniels. He didn't trade for Nate Robinson. He can't stop Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen from aging. So I'm not sure where the blame begins and ends with Doc.
And I get that some people (maybe even some people within the Celtics organization) think it might be time for a divorce. They might even be right. But I do know that if given the right talent Doc Rivers can win an NBA championship. That can't be said with any absolute certainty about any of the guys that are rumored to replace him.
Danny Ainge (D)
In truth, the Finley signing saved him from the only failing grade of the group. Since the title in 2008 Ainge hasn't exactly been throwing 98 MPH fastballs. Patrick O'Bryant, Mikki Moore, Stephon Marbury, Wallace, Daniels, Robinson. That's the kind of series of moves that usually gets a GM a nice buyout package. But Ainge has a title (which buys him a TON of time) and a well-earned reputation for finding good players late in the draft (Rondo, Perkins.) And though I'm sure he hates the idea of life without KG/Pierce/Allen, he might be more than a little excited at the prospect of rebuilding again.