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Is It Time to Adjust Our Expectations?

 

In our season preview for the Celtics, I wrote the following:

The Celtics appear to be the ultimate championship-or-bust team. They have a core of aging stars in their mid-30s, one of whom may not be on the team after this season (Ray Allen) and all of whom have entered into their slow decline toward retirement. But they are still stars, and they are surrounded by an unguardable waterbug with a nasty streak at point guard, a blossoming force at center and a beefed-up bench with proven back-ups at nearly every position. It seems reasonable to say anything short of an 18th championship would be a disappointment.

Then the team started 23-5, a start convincing enough to make the last sentence in that paragraph seem justified: A championship was a reasonable goal. The road would be difficult, but the C’s looked to be as good as any team in the league.

Since then, the Celtics are 18-19. In late January, when the C’s were in the middle of a 4-7 stretch, I tried to calm the panic by pointing out that several recent champions had gone through 4-7 or 5-6 down periods in the regular season.

But 18-19 over what is essentially half the regular season?

Only in very unique circumstances do you find a title team that has gone through a “stretch” like that. If you’re looking for a precedent, you’ll find it with only the few “mediocre” champions in league history (such as the ’78 Bullets or the ’75 Warriors) or those who went through strange, injury-filled regular seasons only to peak in the post season (the ’94 Rockets). Could the C’s qualify as such a team? Maybe.

Otherwise, title teams don’t play sub-.500 ball for half the regular season. They just don’t.

It may be time to ask: Should we reevaluate our expectations for this team? Will you be happy with another conference semi-final loss? Would a conference finals appearance be a wild success? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but with every discouraging loss—Boston is 2-9 now against Orlando, Cleveland and Atlanta—it feels less and less likely that this team will pull it together during the playoffs. Which, by the way, are almost here.

The more important questions, of course, are those facing the front office. Danny Ainge and his staff have spent more time than we would anticipate thinking of 2012 and beyond. But you wonder now if they must shift the way they think about that post-Big Three future—and if that shift has already taken place.

Do you view Ray Allen now as someone you either a) re-sign only as a sign-and-trade piece; b) let go; c) re-sign for one year at most?

Do you refuse to negotiate an extension for Paul Pierce, instead viewing him as a possible mega-expiring contract next season, when teams will be dying to get their hands on expiring deals?

Do you begin thinking of unconventional ways to part with Kevin Garnett?

These sound like outrageous, reckless questions. But if the front office believes—truly believes—that this nucleus can no longer compete for a title, these are the questions they should be discussing.

Note: If you disagree with this entire concept and think the C’s are still elite title contenders, express your views in the comments and by voting “Yes” in that poll on the right side of the page.

  • Sweeney

    Zach,

    I think before those questions are answered we must delve into the mind of ownership. Are they willing to be this much over the luxury tax next year without winning it all this year? It is easier to swallow that as an owner if you think you have a shot, but to be paying money for nothing…well then that is all different. If they say they are willing to do that, then you can speculate what freeing up Ray’s contract can do for some of the FA’s next year.

    On this thought I could just be delusional from beating my head against the shamrock too many times this year…

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @Sweeney: Whether or not they re-sign Allen, they will be over the cap and have no chance to sign any free agents this summer–if that’s what you’re referring to. (sometimes discussing “this year” and “next year” and “this summer” can be confusing when people mean different years, so I’m not sure if were talking about signing FAs this coming summer–of ’10–or next summer (2011).

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    We are playing with the hand we are delt. If they have a successful post season run then our assets may increase there stock and seem interesting to others (while I sadly doubt this).

    It will be intersting to see how Danny plays this in the coming year.

  • efstje

    Come on man.Kg and PP should retire in Boston.They brought a title in Boston after all these years.Some respect…
    It is just that they have to become 6th men and come off the bench,which means they should be paid less money but I guess they are willing to do so.I also think Boston should keep Nate and Big Baby.They are good players.Gee,Hickson is a starter in Cle and is not better than baby.
    What do you think?

  • http://CelticsHub.com Zach Lowe

    @efstje: No one loves PP more than I do. No one. But these are the things you have to consider. As for KG retiring in Boston, that doesn’t move me much—he’s been here 3 seasons. One could make just as good an argument that Minny should pull a Nomar and have him retire there, though of course the NBA’s CBA mitigates against that sort of “contract for fun” deal.

  • Abe

    I think blowing the team up and trying to build around Rondo/Perk/Baby should be explored at least. The cold reality is that they aren’t going to win anything with the old Big 3 any more and the bench is lousy. The young guys are soon going to be entering their prime years and (while they aren’t world beaters on their own by any means) I would hate to see years squandered trying to relive the past.

  • Jay P

    @efstje

    No owner is in their right mind will pay these guys the kinda money their making right now if they are truly has-beened. Whether or not that is the case, I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to wait for the playoffs to see if they really have been just on cruise control to save something for the playoffs.

    If their not, then their over, and ownership/Ainge needs to do anything in their power to salvage something for the future, if we’re going to have no chance at a title next year, it’s crazy for them to be paying out that kind of money. Unload them to a contender who may be willing to give up draft picks/up and comers in order for a “Win now!” team and let’s hope we have enough next year for an 8 seed, and get ready for the future.

  • hallik

    @ Zach, Question, in your opinion, how did the Spurs manage to stay in the ‘hunt’ for so many years when many of their players were also as old as the Celts? I want to say that they had less talent?

  • Jim MacIndoe

    Zach,
    Out of the Big Three I think Ray Allen has had less of a decline then Kevin or Paul. Ray has been and always will be one of my favorite players but would I sign him next year? I want to say yes. This is where Danny A

  • Sweeney

    Ainge has not been one to make decisions with his heart. Or at least to this point his heart has not trump’d his basketball acumen.

    @Abe, I disagree with your thoughts on Baby. He will go get paid starter money somewhere but he is a 6th man. A man his size with no elevation is not who I want starting on my team.

  • NHBluesMan

    i hope we can hang on to Daniels and/or Nate. I feel like next year they should try to shake up the starting rotation, build around Rondo and Perk and then have whoever is left of the Big 3 coming off the bench. They’d play great back-up minutes, and could go for another couple years. I love them to death, but at this point unless they peak, they’re just dragging the team down sometimes

  • NHBluesMan

    i also REALLY wish we would’ve held onto Leon. Him, Perk and Rondo would’ve been a great new ‘Big 3′ to build the team around

  • Conall Mac Michael

    Ray is the only player out of the Big 3 that is playing well. Ever since all the trade talk Ray has been playing very efficiently. 7-14 including 3-5 from deep to go along with 6 re’s and 5 gives vs. Ceveland. Maybe Danny should put Pierce and KG on the block to see if it will spark them into life. As for trading Pierce I just wouldn’t do it. He deserves a chance to get fully healthy and as previous comments have indicated, he deserves a chance to retire in Boston and have his number retired along with the other great ones. As for the rest of this season, I’m foolishly holding out hope that they can turn it around. Crazier things have happened.

  • Abe

    @Sweeney Maybe it a bit unfair of me to put Baby with Rondo/Perk without clarification. I agree that right now his ceiling looks to be 6th man but part of me thinks he can get back to being the player he started to be last season.

    @NHBluesMan I agree that losing Leon sucks but then again it made sense letting him go given the fact that he now has two bum knees. If he’s healthy for the long term it will come back to bite the Cs.

  • Jay P

    @NHBluesMan

    I’d agree with you on the loving Powe part. But let’s be honest, the type of knee injuries he has, he has no longevity in this league. It’s a damn shame to see, but you just can’t come back the same from those type of injuries, it’s just a matter of time. I give him 3-4years at most.

    My father had complete rebuilds on both knees, similar injuries that Powe has had. After the rehab has asked his Doctor how long he can expect to play Tennis afterward. Doctor said, let me put it this way, you have about 30,000 miles left on those tires, how long the trip takes all depends on how fast you drive.

    Now granted you can’t compare a mid-20s peak physical condition athlete to my almost 60 father who used to run marathons and has ground his knees into oblivion over the years. But the point is, that type of injury isn’t something which just goes away, it’s only a matter of time.

  • Perry

    @ Zach. After yesterday’s performance it’s a reasonable question to ask. I’m not sure though if we can form a consensus on lowering the bar because we do have a successful template to leverage from. This team stormed out to an 23-5 record. True they had oodles of talent, but they were doing the little things that a guy like Varejao does. Since Kevin went down they no longer play with that type of urgency. They don’t come up with the loose balls. They’re not playing tough in paint. They are not rebounding. They’re being out hustled. They are not coming up with stops when necessary.

    So the mystique is gone — ergo no one fears them. The only way to get their identity back is if Kevin and Pierce revert back to their old form. If not, can this team make a run if both are close to 80%? I still think it’s possible if they avoid Atlanta. So I guess I did answer your question. If the team continues to play in spite of itself the conference finals would be acceptable.

    How Danny approaches the off season will depend on the weaknesses brought out by the opponent during the post season. We know they have problems handling young, athletic front lines. My guess is if they get bounced out in the first round major changes will be in the works. However there’s not a lot of moving parts for Danny to work with. He would have to listen to offers where Perk is concerned, Davis too. I don’t think Sheed’s contract can be moved. We do own Ray’s Bird rights, and Pierce has expressed willingness to restructure his deal. The new CBA is another variable we can’t account for. However ownership has made it clear they will spend the money to keep this team in contention.

    Right now, it’s a piece meal scenario. Pierce and Kevin must find their groove, and Doc must come up with an 8-9 man rotation that plays with heart, The good news is the roster is deep and the team is not pointing fingers at each other. There is reason to hold out hope.

  • Cptn Bubbles

    It just all seems kinda weird. We’ve got 3 big time stars who I think could put up big numbers INDIVIDUALLY in CERTAIN games (not all games) due to match-ups & being in the zone, but they always defer. We see every game that one or two starters are cold & just not in the zone. Instead of feeding the pig & letting Ray or KG go off for 40+ we just keep forcing the ball to Paul. Or Paul could be on fire & we force the ball to Ray when he is frigid. We have got TONS of experience but we just don’t play smart. We continue to throw the ball to Sheed when he is struggling, & Doc subs Sheed out of the game when he has just scored 3 times in a row in the paint (earlier game in the season) because it’s time for the starters to return. We could have a match-up advantage or liability, but you can’t take advantage or protect because we are stuck with the same rotations no matter what is actually happening in the game. Doc is playing people like it is 2 years ago.

    Doc gives a quote that they were not putting a body on Varejao… guys were just standing there. Credit to Doc for seeing/diagnosing the problem……but then a F- to Doc for not actively trying to do something about it (besides talking to the press AFTERWARD —as if the press is going to fix things). Doc could have kept subbing until someone from the Cs listened & put a body on Varejao. To me, the Cs look like they are scared of Varejao. I’ve watched many a game when Scal would come in & put a body on someone. He played kamikaze D. He would face his adversary & just crash his body into them to stop any & all forward motion—when they did not have the ball (he did this especially when someone was attacking the boards, & it worked). I called it blobbing them. He is the only C I’ve seen play this way. When you think of PJ & Posey, they would get up on people & put a body on them. Right now we look Lakerish with the finesse mindset. Either we are too dumb or too soft to CONSTANTLY put a body on someone on the defensive end. To exacerbate the problem Doc will not sub out anyone who is playing soft so we continue to be prissy. It used to be dread, but teams now look forward to playing us.

  • Zack

    @zachlowe
    The NBA is full of very weird salary considerations and rules. Could the C’s just buy out KG & Paul and then sign them to more agreeable deals given their age and skills? Would this free cap space to do anything or would we just be spinning our wheels (if its even possible)?

  • Jay P

    @Zack

    Even if it were possible, do you really see ownership committing to paying off their already bloated salaries, and then signing on to pay them MORE. It creates the cap room and lets you sign new players when them restructured, but there’s no way in hell ownership is going to shell out that kind of cash.

  • Scott

    ray is still the only player of the big three playing good consistent basketball.. Why does everyone always talk about letting him go?? Why not let Ray and Rondo carry the offense a little bit more down the stretch instead of Iso-ing pierce every other possession. How many times did Jeff Van-Gundy say yesterday, that when the offense moves through Ray, they get the best shot available? And then it happened. Every time Ray touched the ball, something happened. people moved around, the defense watched him more, and they stopped crowding the lanes as much. Rondo got open lay ups, ray got open shots, and the offense MOVED! When people Iso, no one moves! let Ray and Rondo run, cause they are the only ones that can, and sit PP and KG till they are FULLY healthy. Something needs to change, or this team will be out second round, easily. They are too old to continue doing what theyre doing.

  • I love Green

    We have to get Ray Allen back. We must, theres just no replacing a guy like that. But if Danny can find a better SG to start over Ray, and then have Ray be the 6th man. I’d be overjoyed. Ray has less minutes, fresher legs, and boom we got the 6th man of the year. Also we gotta find a good young PF this offseason, somebody who splits minutes with KG. That mystery PF would replace Sheed when we find somebody who’ll take him. We won’t get much back but, he’s got an expiring contract so maybe we can put a deal together to get younger and more athletic. Rondo and Perk are the future, and now we gotta start planning for a future replacement for Pierce. I don’t know who, or how but we have to find a solid young backup with potential to replace him in a few years. Im hoping atleast 2 of those things happen, keep your fingers crossed for this offseason.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    i would go into full rebuild mode this offseason. there is no way to fine-tune this squad into a contender. rondo is the only player i would build around. everyone else is available.

    the biggest problems are kg and sheeds contracts. they are among the worst in the league, as not even a contender looking for a piece would take them anymore. i would try and package perk with one of those deals and take back expiring deals and picks. i like perk a lot, but i think he has value now and is not someone to build around not at the dollars he will demand when he renews (i see him as the next elton brand).

    pierce isn’t getting an extension and he won’t want to be here if the Cs are rebuilding….however tough it is, time for a split. if danny gives in, i see a stephen jackson scenario where he signs the deal and then is unhappy with rebuilding and demands to leave anyways. trade his expiring deal before the deadline next year – a young piece and/or picks.

    sign ray to a reasonable 2 year deal. he is a true professional and is still playing at a high-level. he has value here or somewhere else.

    baby is a backup. either he accepts that role and salary, or ship him.

    everyone else is opportunistic. fill the roster with short-term deals.

    bad news: any way you slice it, next year is a washout to get rid of contracts. the rebuilding happens the following year.
    good news: tickets are easier to get and there is hope. watching an energetic, young team come together is more rewarding then feeling bad for the vets

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  • Norman Moralas
  • http://celticshub.com Stephen

    Yes, there are problems however I can’t understand why Doc Rivers isn’t seeing the main problem. It’s Rasheed Wallace. He’s lazy and has pretty much worked to destroy this teams chemistry . Put his ass on the bench and keep him there until he decides he wants to be a team player. The Celtics don’t need to blow up this team. If Doc ever mans up and does what is necessary the Celtics can be a very real threat in the playoffs—–Word

  • rooboy

    Captn Bubble
    “Right now we look Lakerish with the finesse mindset”

    would that be the same laker team that are the current world champions….

    all I can say is one and done

    go lakers

  • Dario

    Rather than thinking ahead to next year, how about changing up the rotation this year and bringing KG and Ray Allen off the bench to play most of the second quarter and more importantly, all of the fourth quarter with fresh legs. Start Glen Robinson and Marquis Daniels in their place. Bench Sheed and give Sheldon Williams some more playing time, preferably together with KG and Ray. Throw Michael Finley and Nate Robinson in there with them for the second quarter and at the end of the third/beginning of fourth to give Paul Pierce and Rajon a good rest before coming into the game with about 9:00 minutes left to play. Everyone will be fresh in the fourth quarter when it counts most. Worry about next year after this season ends. It ain’t over til’ it’s over!

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