So, the team went 8-6 over their first 14 games, and most fans panicked. In the very least, everyone was disappointed. Theyíve just gone 6-8 over their past 14 games. What do we fans do now? Iím not entirely sure. Personally, Iím trying to zone out for a few weeks. Itís tough because I love the Celtics, but I am not excited about this seasonís team. My feelings have very little to do with wins and losses. Last season they were 15-17, but I still believed. That team had a different feeling to it. There were injuries to deal with, and a shortened season with multiple back-to-backs, but the team had spirit. The same excuses donít work this season. I enjoy following teams that show passion and energy game-in, game-out. Passion and energy are not two adjectives that describe this seasonís Celtics team. Two better adjectives are lazy and unfocused. Am I supposed to rest all hope on young Avery Bradley? Though I love Bradleyís game, and I understand how his return will set right a lot of the rotation issues, I cannot believe that his return will cure all ills for this team.
- If there were a book written about the first 28 games of this Celticsí season, it would have to be titled One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (or Meh!). Even though the team currently sits at .500 (in 8th place in the East), they are light years away from competing for a championship. And, every time we get an uplifting win, such as the defensive showing against the Nets on Christmas, it is immediately followed by a hollowing loss, such as the debacle against the Clippers.
- In keeping with this teamís struggles and inconsistent play, let me pose the following question: Has there been a more disappointing team this season that hasnít yet fired its coach? The Lakers were disappointing, and Mike Brown lost his job. The Nets are disappointing (and 1/2 game ahead of the Celtics), and Avery Johnson lost his job. There is no team left more disappointing than the Celtics that hasnít already fired its coach. Yet, Ainge just said yesterday that Doc is his man. I donít fault Ainge for that belief. Iíve written numerous times on this site that if Doc retired or were fired I believe KG would immediately retire and Ainge would look into trading both Pierce and Rondo. With Doc gone, this era of Celtics basketball would truly be over.
Do I believe Doc is doing a good job? No, I donít. Itís tough to write that because Doc has done so much for this franchise over the past nine seasons, but there are glaring weaknesses that he has not shored up over the first 28 games. He has done a poor job of incorporating Jason Terry. He has Terry running Ray Allenís old plays, and Terry and Allen share nothing in common except the position of SG. Terry needs the ball in his hands to create. Allen was best coming off screens and curls. That is not Terryís game, but thatís what Doc has him doing. Terry needs the ball in his hands and a few dribbles to get his shot set, while Ray was all about catch-and-shoot. Doc needs to get the ball in Terryís hands more often. Doc is also not utilizing Jeff Greenís strengths, sticking him in situations better suited for The Truth. Green stands around in no manís land half the time, and the other half Doc has him in isos. Jeff Green is not a good isolation player. He only goes one way (right) and he isnít confident in his first step to get past a defender. So, when Jeff Green isos you get one of two outcomes Ė drive to his right or jump shot. Heís not a great jump shooter, so Iíd say heís not playing to his strengths here. Green needs to be run off screens for cuts to the basket or he needs to sit weak side in the corner and dive towards the hoop for passes or follow-ups (or hit the corner threes). A defensive guru needs to be hired to assist Doc in returning this defense to its glory. Doc apparently knows nothing about defense because too often this team plays defense like the Warriors (oh, wait, the Warriors are actually playing defense this year!). You can only have so many missed assignments, late rotations, and transition defensive breakdowns. This all rests on Doc. Also, Docís timeout plays, for which he is famous, have been underwhelming this year. We all remember the two Rondo plays in the 76ers overtime game. Ugh.
Doc has been doing some things right. He calls out the team when needed and defends them when needed. I like his insertion of Collins into the starting lineup. If you donít like Collinsí insertion then tell Ainge to go find another 7-footer. The team needs size, and Collins is the only one there to provide it. I donít care if his stat line is empty. Against most teams, he plays solid defense and uses his fouls to deter drives to the basket. I like how Doc has begun giving Bassí (and Wilcoxís, for now) minutes to Sully, now that he knows the rookie can handle it. This is a very important ongoing change for the team because Sully is the player of the future and Bass should now be trade-bait.
Now, this comes to the all-important big question: Do I believe Doc should be fired? No. I donít recommend pulling the plug on this Celtics era mid-season. If, however, at seasonís end, the Celtics have either been bounced in the first round or (gulp!) missed the playoffs, then I do believe Ainge should seriously consider firing Doc and starting a new era. Doc may have gotten all heís ever going to get out of this group (including Rondo), and if thatís the case itís time to move on.
- The most impressive player so far this season has been Sully. Heís averaging 5.1ppg and 5.1rpg in 17mpg. Heís the top offensive rebounder on the team, at 1.7 per game. Heís even averaging more assists per game (.8 - this is supposed to say "point eight" but a smiley face keeps appearing) than turnovers (.6). He is nearing Brandon Bassí numbers (8ppg, 5.5rpg) in ten less minutes per game. When he is on the court, the team has a physical presence. Sully carves out space in the paint, goes up strong with the ball, boxes out his man, and even keeps Blake Griffin off the highlight reel. Iíd say his biggest fault so far is that he averages 3 fouls per game, but I put 1.5 of those on the refs. He simply gets no respect at this point, but I can see that changing as he smartens up and refs recognize heís in the right place at the right time more often than not.
Sullyís numbers donít jump off the page, and he has hit the rookie wall a few times, but he is the lone Celtic bringing passion and energy every single time he steps on the court. I canít say the same for Rondo, KG, or The Truth. Itís evident that Terry, Lee, Green, and Bass are either confused or disinterested. Playing with passion and energy is the very least I ask for as a fan.
If Iím Ainge, Iím not trading Sully for anything less than a solid starting center (e.g. Varejao, Gortat, Gasol).
- The player I am most disappointed by is Rondo. Given my criteria, it cannot be hard to see why. Yes, he has his flashy games (usually nationally televised, still) and is leading the league in assists, but if he truly wants to be the leader this team so desperately needs then he needs to bring A+ effort to every single game. He doesnít need to have an A+ game, but he needs to bring A+ effort. There is a big difference there. The Celtics still never know what theyíll get from Rondo on any given night. Thatís a shame at this point.
Rondoís lack of aggressiveness driving to the hoop has disappointed me for years. He is one of the gameís best ball handlers and has one of the quickest first steps, but there are some games where he just dribbles the ball above the 3-pt line possession after possession. Rondoís defense has also been underwhelming, but Iíve long been a believer that his defense is overrated. He is too often lazy or complacent on the defensive end, and his lapses guarding guards leads to penetration and easy points in the paint and/or fouls on our big men. Fans often blame the big men for late rotations, but itís often Rondoís (and Terryís) fault for poor defense up top.
Rondo needs to step up night-in, night-out if he wants to be the leader of this team. Honestly, the team needs him to step up night-in, night-out.
- On the trade block, everyone is discussing DeMarcus Cousins. What happened to Varejao and Gortat? Honestly, Iím not a fan of Cousins. I donít believe head cases are a good addition to any team, especially not one with the potentially-volatile Rondo and the passionately-disciplined KG. Also, Cousinsí stats are a bit ballooned by his ball usage. Yes, he averages 15ppg and 10rpg, but he also takes 14 shots per game and averages 3 turnovers per game and 4 fouls per game. At 14 shots per game, heíd be second on our team, one behind Pierce. Doc would not allow that to happen, and Cousinsí numbers would drop. When that happens, who knows where his attitude would go. He would also be averaging the second-most turnovers (behind Rondo) and the most fouls. If Cousins can be gotten for the likes of Bass and Lee, without trading Sully or Bradley, then I would be ok with the deal, but I am not actively hoping that Ainge goes all-out for Cousins. Now, if we were discussing Varejao, then maybe Iíd sing a different tune.
- Their upcoming schedule is no cake walk. They only have two back-to-backs over the next fourteen games, but they play eight playoff teams, including the Knicks twice. They do have a string of five home games over a week-and-a-half against the likes of the Suns, Rockets, Bobcats, Hornets, and Bulls. Those are five games they need to win (Iíll accept 4-1). They need to take both games from the Knicks if theyíll have any chance of winning the Atlantic. I donít think thatís likely as the Knicks have more big-game scorers and team chemistry at this point. Iím hoping for 10-4 over the next fourteen, but Iíll settle for another 8-6 stretch.
- Last time, I wrote that there was nothing to fret over being 8-6. How do I feel about 14-14? Disinterested. If this team doesnít start bringing passion and energy to their games, then I donít see why we fans should care.