Wednesday’s win against Cleveland was a necessary palate-cleanser after the mess in Texas and the calamity in Chicago. Still, Boston carries a host of issues into the new year. Between now and January 1st, we’ll have a look at a few of them, starting today with what might be a sea change in Boston’s strategic approach.
Enough With The Shrimpy Lineups?
On his weekly call with WEEI yesterday, Danny Ainge dropped this little nugget, which suggests a shift in how the Celtics might line up on the court. Ainge:
“We did some amazing things last year in the second half of the season and it’s a great credit to the guys and to Doc, but I do think that it wasn’t necessarily the way we should go forward, and yet it was hard to mess with that success. I think that’s taken a little bit of time to figure out that maybe that’s not the best way for us to play, is play small.”
That doesn’t feel like an offhand comment because earlier on Thursday Doc Rivers mentioned he had been considering this move for awhile and was only waiting for Avery Bradley’s return to install a legitimate center in the starting lineup. It’s hard to fault him for jumping the gun after watching a parade of opposing players assault the rim in the previous three games.
The move could also shift Kevin Garnett back to his natural 4-spot, which isn’t ideal if it leads to him drifting to the perimeter on offense (more than he already does) but reducing the burden on him to guard the opposing team’s biggest player could pay dividends in the spring.
If the decision has been made to make real attempts to protect the rim — something the C’s have done poorly this season — the question is whether Boston has the necessary personnel to do it. Jason Collins is big, strong, physical and is particularly adept at defending the post. But he’s a terrible offensive player and rebounder and has a history of racking up fouls. On balance, moving him into the starting lineup on anything more than a temporary basis could be a mistake. He probably can’t stay on the court and he’ll have you playing 4-on-5 on the offensive end.
The other in-roster options aren’t appealing. Fab Melo isn’t going to give Boston anything this season. Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass are power forwards who rarely alter shots. Chris Wilcox is a hit-or-miss prospect most nights and when he misses it’s usually on the defensive end. He’s been lost on rotations far too regularly and since he’s been with the Celtics he’s typically played smaller than his 6’10″ height.
All this suggests what we’ve suspected all along this season: a trade is coming, one that spins off some of the Celtics’ imminent wing depth and/or big man prospects for a legitimate starting-quality defensive center. Do they have enough assets to find someone to fill that hole?
That’s unclear but as January 15th approaches and players (including guys like Bass) become eligible to be traded, the Celtics may be forced into a move. The larger question is whether a new center, along with incremental improvement from bench guys like Jeff Green and Courtney Lee can really make the Celtics competitive with the Miamis and OKCs of the world. We’ll get into that next week.