Three years ago prior to the 2009 NBA Draft, I had two guys pegged as potential picks for the C’s. It didn’t matter though, the Celtics had one pick (58th) and it was likely going to be a player who wasn’t going to be around that long. Still, because I like the draft and fantasize about finding sleepers late in it, I had narrowed the Celtics options down to two prolific college scorers: Lester Hudson and Dionte Christmas.
Both players were a bit undersized for their position, but what did that matter?! They could put the ball in the hole! It’s the 58th pick! The Celtics could afford to take a flyer on one of these guys.
And they did. As you all know, they selected Hudson who
has become the score first point guard the Celtics miss with Rondo on the floor is now trying to fight his way on to the Denver Nuggets’ already-full roster.
As you can imagine, part of me was a bit sad that the Celtics didn’t select Christmas when Hudson didn’t end up becoming a 58th Special. Luckily due to the majesty of summer league dominance, Christmas is getting a second chance to steal my heart with his scoring ability and his unquestionably questionable shot selection.
Now, though, I am older, more cynical, and more Zach Lowe-like in my approach to end-of –the-bench players. What does it matter? Won’t Christmas just let me down the way Hudson did when he didn’t start averaging a triple-double? Perhaps. But what might make me more angry is when the Celtics have a rash of injuries (almost a given) and need a big shooting guard who can defend the two and three positions and is at least capable on the offensive end because Christmas has proven ineffective for the big leagues. At that time, my thoughts will turn to Mickael Pietrus and the veteran’s mimimum he took to play for one of the many contending teams over the salary cap threshold.
WHY CHRISTMAS SHOULD MAKE THE TEAM
Now that Christmas has taken his #leapoffaith and set aside lucrative overseas offers to chase the NBA Dream, karma should almost reward him for taking this chance and give him a roster spot. He’s working hard. He’s playing fearlessly. He’s young, cheap, and doesn’t come with a long injury history. With three other guys on the Celtics roster ahead of him on the shooting guard depth chart, it seems only natual to take him on as a low-risk insurance policy.
Not only does Christmas play hard and play fearlessly, but he’s also thick enough to guard NBA small forwards and fast enough to get by them on the offensive end. Christmas would also be a welcomed additon to a team like the Celtics who have struggled to find players who can create their own shot.
Pietrus used to be that guy. The type of player who attacked the basket with reckless abandon. The type of player to take one power dribble forward, only to step back and drain a three. The Celtics got the watered-down version of that last year. They got the “hey, there is so little Hersey’s syrup left that I’m going to just fill the container up with milk, shake it, and squeeze the delicious mixture straight into my mouth. Sure, it won’t really be close to chocolate milk but it’s not every day I get to drink out of the Hersey’s syrup bottle” version. What’s worse is that his shooting abillity completely disappeared during last year’s playoffs. So much so that every time Pietrus actually connected from deep, Celtics’ fans would convince themselves that he had found it again and this added dimemsion would make them unstoppable. He never really found it and the Celtics were not unstoppable. The reason for Pietrus’ demise last season was clearly a laundry list of nagging injuries that he never fully recovered from. Who knows how healthy Pietrus will be this season?
Even if the Celtics did want to add Pietrus, the most they can give him is their biannual exception which is only slightly more substantial the veteran’s minimum. With Pietrus’ agent emphatically telling the league that Peaches is not a minimum player, it’s unlikely the biannual exception will be enough.
Christmas, on the other hand, will techincally be a rookie and will preserve the Celtics’ biannual exception for next season. This will give the C’s more flexibility next offseason when they need to fill out a more bloated roster.
WHY CHRISTMAS SHOULD NOT MAKE IT
While it was painful to watch Mickael Pietrus miss three after three in last year’s playoffs, it was almost always reassuring to see him check LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Knowing that the Celtics could rely on a solid, atheltic defender like Peaches to take the burden of defending Wade off of Ray Allen’s ankles was definitely reassuring. Aside from a few boneheaded fouls, Pietrus played really well against those two juggernauts.
It’s almost given that Christmas will not be able to defend James or Wade with the same level of success as Pietrus. Christmas has the size and speed to defend players of Wade and James’ ilk, but he lacks the valuable experience to be relied upon in a tight playoff game. Pietrus does not.
Pietrus is also running out of options. I’m sure he wants to play for a contender and we know he wants more than the veteran’s minimum. He may not get a better offer than the Celtics’ biannual exception and he may not even get that. With Pietrus’s experience and being slightly bigger than Christmas, I can actually envision a Celtics’ small lineup that would include Terry/Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Pietrus. I can’t do the same thing with Christmas.
One should also consider what Christmas’ ceiling may be and how that type of player has traditionally fit in with the Celtics during the Big Three era. Christmas, being a shoot-first pass-almost-never guard reminds me a lot of another Philly product: Flip Murray. Murray spent eight years in the league providing instant offense off the bench for mediocre teams but little else. This type of player has only been moderately successful in the modern Celtics era with the lone outlier being Nate Robinson. Bear in mind, Robinson’s effectiveness for the C’s had a very short shelf-life.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The odds of playing time for either Pietrus or Christmas are really stacked against them. Bradley will be the starter when he fully recovers from his shoulder surgeries and the Celtics didn’t trade all of their roster flotsom and the Jeff Green Broken Heart Compensation (early second rounder) for Courtney Lee so he could sit on the bench. The Celtics have such a surplus at the shooting guard position when you consider the addition of Lee and the notion of Rajon Rondo and Jason Terry sharing the court.
It’ll be interesting to see how training camp shakes out. Perhaps the fourth shooting guard spot will be much clearer by then. Until that time, who would you rather have occupying the bench this season: Dionte Christmas of Mickael Pietrus?