With Marquis Daniels’ neck injury earlier this week and Nate Robinson’s knee going pop last night, the Celtics are testing exactly how close to the edge of the cliff this roster can go before the weight of its injuries pushes it into the ravine.
Even with Delonte West expected back as early as next Wednesday against New Jersey, the Celtics have to be wondering if this plague of injuries will ever cease. Because Boston can’t do what it did last year – let the veterans downshift into second gear, give away games, and hit a switch in the first round.
They’re a damn good team this year. Possibly the best in the league.
But they’re nowhere near invincible and unlikely to win four rounds of playoffs without home court advantage the majority of the time.
So, with the February 24 trade deadline approaching, Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers have decisions to make on how best to position this team to raise banner #18 in June. Because roster stasis feels more and more like acquiescing to the blind hope that somehow they’ll get through a month without another player going down. That somehow Rivers will have the time and personnel to get both starters and bench working in fluid concert before the start of the playoffs.
Doc suggested his team wasn’t mentally tough enough against Los Angeles last night. To that, I would say this – what team wouldn’t struggle mentally under the strain of player after player going down with injuries? What player wouldn’t look at a thinning bench, a strong opponent and be tempted to play some hero ball, especially when the guys on the floor with him are unfamiliar?
Now 3-4 in their last seven games, and tied with Miami atop the Eastern Conference, the Celtics continue to make no excuses for their play. They claim they should be winning every game, no matter who is healthy and who is not. That’s exactly the mentality you want from a team aspiring to a title, but there has to be some doubt creeping in about whether there’s enough on this roster to get it done.
The Celtics need to make a move for a backup small forward who can defend elite wing players. This was a problem even before Daniels got hurt because his injury history always promised he’d spend an extended time on the injured list. It happened last year and now it’s happened this year. And even if he is able to come back, can the Celtics count on him anymore than they can count on Jermaine O’Neal?
Not unless they’re also sold on Von Wafer as a defensive stopper they can use to cover the Lebron James’ and Dwayne Wade’s and (ahem) Kobe Bryant’s of the league.
Of course, Boston could also use more consistent post-offense, a great offensive rebounder off the bench and additional athleticism and youth but there’s a limit to what’s possible with the team’s limited trade assets and potential buyout targets.
The bottom line here is the Celtics owe it to the ghosts of Red Auerbach and Larry O’Brien to do whatever they can to put themselves over the top. Cutting an end-of-bench fringe prospect to pick up a veteran buyout makes sense. Losing some combination of Avery Bradley, Nate Robinson, and a future first round pick wouldn’t hurt if the return was a fix at the backup three spot that carried the C’s through to the end of the playoffs. Losing someone more significant in the rotation shouldn’t be out of the question either, if there’s a possibility to better fit the parts around Boston’s four all-stars.
On some of those points, I’m sure you’ll disagree. That’s fair. We can argue all day about who the Celtics should trade for, and who they should give up and orders of magnitude.
But there’s one thing we should all agree on:
This year is not about building for the future. This year is about this year.
And this year, the Celtics are all in.
Time to push those chips to the center of the table.