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Are The Celtics Abandoning Small Lineups?

 

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.

  • Phil

    Honestly, I don't think Ainge is that in tune with the day to day operations of the Celtics. I have nothing legitimate to base that on obviously, but signing Darko at all and what I have to assume was a Green contract that had him playing major minutes as a smallball 4 in mind (surely he wouldn't give him 9m to be a backup 3 for 15 minutes a night, right?) combined with the fact that Doc hasn't even 'tried' either of those things this year leads me to believe that there's some kind of disconnect there. That's just speculation though.

    The whole idea of abandoning small ball just seems shortsighted to me. Ainge acknowledges the success they had last year, then expects them to surpass that by relying on Jason Collins or whoever you can get for Courtney Lee? I believe that Doc wanted to try this for a while, but I also doubt that he has sticking with it consistently going forward (or for the playoffs,) in mind. Reducing the burden on KG could be a legitimate reason, as could alleviating the dependence on Bass while he hopefully works his way out of this tailspin. This team's ceiling still involves KG at the 5 though, and I have to think both Doc and Ainge know that, though I thankfully have more faith in the guy actually making the lineup decisions.

    • dslack

      Green is a terrible 4. This has been repeatedly demonstrated over his career. Doc has played him somewhat at the 4 this season, but the fact that Green has mostly played the 3 has been greatly to Doc's credit.

      • Phil

        Oh for sure. If Doc's done anything wrong with Green it's been feeding him touches with the second unit instead of Terry to try and get him involved. I feel like Doc wakes up at random points in the night cursing Ainge for that contract.

  • The Cardinal

    What's that oft-stated definition of insanity? Heck yeah the C's are gonna utilize Collins at the 5 because how many times do you continue to get your butts kicked by sticking with what's not working given a fourth of the season is gone?

    As for the lack of offense Collins brings, how soon we forget that when Perk was starting, it was the same 4 vs. 5 offensive scenario that was alluded to above, and we won a dang championship! Offensively, Collins is no worse now than Perk was then (granted that by losing 20 or 30 pounds, Perk has actually marginally improved, but that's neither here or there for comparison purposes).

    As for Fab Melo? I haven't seen him play this year, but I know that Boston needs to change it's philosophy with first rounders and either select them because you plan to use them (albeit sparingly if need be) while they slowly develop, or trade the datgum pick. In today's NBA, the idea of drafting someone in the first round that you don't intend to use is ludicrous.

    Finally, Doc truly needs to abide by the words he spoke out of frustration which were essentially if you are not producing, then we are going to play someone else. We have a fourteen man roster and simply put, if the pieces aren't there to challenge for a championship this season, then maybe this is the year to "blow up" the team and start building for the future. But before you do, if players you counted on aren't producing (yes Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee, I mean you) and there are others who aren't playing or aren't playing very much, then forget about what you're paying certain players and what you hoped would happen and start giving the others a chance.

    Do something – just don't keep on doing the same ol' dumb a… stuff!!!

    • The Cardinal

      Oh, back to the "only four" players offensively scenario with Collins, I misspoke – back in the championship season and the following season, our starting lineups only had "three" offensive players because back then, Rondo as well as Perk were both huuuge offensive liabilities! If you've got guys who will play defense, you can find ways to create the offense.

      • Josh_5

        This is the type of thinking that seems to be lacking in the C's front office. You won a damn championship in 2008 and have competed every year since based on one thing, DEFENSE. If some guys on the team don't wanna play D, then don't give them minutes. You either play D or you don't play period. That should be the philosophy.

    • Phil

      Everyone's really all on board with traditional big ball again? Even after the huge groundswell of going against the wave last year that, by the way, worked well enough to get this team a game out of the finals?

      Collins isn't Perk (and it's worth noting that Perk is a blight on every OKC lineup that he plays in right now. They would be a much better team if they stopped playing him today.) Collins can't rebound, his defense isn't on Perk's level, and if possible, he's an even worse offensive player than Perk.

      There are two arguments here; experimenting with a true 5 in the regular season is fine. The #1 thing for the Cs is having KG in prime health come playoffs. If playing him at the 4 helps, do it. There's just no way this is the last change though. This team needs to find who will play the 4 alongside KG at the 5 if they want to get out of the East. Miami eviscerated Perk in OKC last year, they may have to censor the games if the Cs put Collins out there against them.

      I think we can all agree that the Cs ideal lineup includes Rondo/Bradley/Pierce and KG. Doc has a few months to figure out who that 5th player is, ideally without getting the 7th seed.

      • Josh_5

        Phil, my argument isn't so much about bailing on small ball completely, but rather that almost every statistical category this year for Boston's D is worse than year's past. Collins is not the solution, but to ignore the paint/rebounding problem we have would be foolish. I say experiment with Collins, see if it helps the D, then go after a defensive big via trade.

        • et2

          I just don't see how a smaller lineup can match up against the Heat. The C's will not be able to consistently stay in front of Lebron and Wade (though a healthy Bradley may be able to limit Wade). If the perimeter defense is porous, then we need size to defend against the penetration. The Heat can get away with playing their brand of small ball because their players are young, athletic, and dynamic. A smaller lineup will not be able to defend them and may not even provide the Celtics the opportunity to face them in the Eastern Conference Finals. The only way the Heat will lose this year is if they get out muscled, out rebounded, and out hustled during a grueling 7 game series. The current roster can't do any of those things.

          • Phil

            The non-Boston NBA community would argue that Boston won't be able to stop Miami regardless of what they do. I don't think it's that bleak, but we're talking about beating the favorite here. The Heat beat the Cs at their smallball peak last year, then did the same thing to OKC while simultaneously destroying their traditional lineups. They're a very good team that presents matchup problems regardless of who you put out there. We're rooting for a longshot to come through regardless; the Cs probably win last year if Bosh is out another week. Crazier things have happened.

            The way I see it, you can beat Miami by being an elite big team (Memphis,) or by beating them at their own game (Knicks.) I don't think you'll get anywhere by trying to straddle the line (OKC last year.) The Heat are too good at doing traditional things with their small lineup. The Cs will never be an elite big team, so that leaves one chance.

        • Phil

          That's fair. You could obviously argue that the small lineups will be worse regardless because of Bradley being out, but it's clear that the bigs are an issue too. Bass has been bad, and Green can't even play smallball 4, let alone traditional 4. I'm all for regular season experimentation.

      • The Cardinal

        The problem is if the C's don't go big more often, forget Miami – they probably won't make the playoffs! They certainly won't make the playoffs with Bass or Green at the 4 and KG at the 5, and if you start Sully beside KG, you're even weaker with Bass or Green playing with Wilcox off the bench.

        Sure, Collins will foul out in 20 minutes given the opportunity, but don't underestimate the impact that his brawn and willingness to plug the lane and give hard fouls has on slowing the other team's layup drills. He's managed to stay in the league for a reason, so I say utilize that experience unless or until: 1) one of the anointed starts playing better consistently, or 2) you bring in a more well-rounded big.

        • Phil

          I don't really think missing the playoffs is a concern barring an injury (read; injury to KG.) That speaks to the overall level of the East more than anything else. If we assume Orlando will eventually fall out, that leaves 9 teams for 8 spots. The Cs would have to finish last among a group that includes Philly/Brooklyn/Milwaukee/Indiana. I can't see that happening; the Celtics are still a good team, even if they have holes. What I do think is realistic with a bad regular is ending up with the 7th seed and a first round road series in New York or Miami that could lead to a quick summer.

          I'm also not sure that Collins sticking around is that impressive; the league is filled with old guys in the league because they're seven feet tall. I assume there are grandparents who remember watching Juwan Howard and the Fab 5. I just think people are infatuated with the idea of a true 5, rather than the specifics of Collins playing that spot. I've been trying to break up the arguments though, because there's one very important caveat; you've already been playing 4 on 5 with Bass lately. I'd rather go into the game tonight with Collins starting than Bass. If we're still in this position come playoffs though, it's a whole different issue.

  • http://twitter.com/SpaceKappa @SpaceKappa

    I would love (LOVE) to see the C's do whatever it takes to pry Cousins out of Sacramento. He's a headcase, but he's a legitimate franchise center and I think an organization like the Celtics is EXACTLY what he needs. He's a young, cocky player who wants to win and the Celtics know how to do exactly that. With him learning from KG, being nurtured by Doc and playing with Rondo he'll lose basically everything he has to gripe about.

    It'll cost the C's a lot (although the Magoofs clearly have no intentions of running their franchise properly – I used to live in Sacramento and have been a Kings fan since '99 despite me adopting the Celtics when I moved here) but the potential rewards of a gifted, powerful center being paired with the top point guard in the game while they're both young are too good to pass up.

    • dslack

      I'm not sure how much he wants to win. His jogging back on defense while complaining to the refs doesn't scream "WANTS TO WIN" to me.

      • http://twitter.com/SpaceKappa @SpaceKappa

        Yeah, but he's also playing in Sacramento which hasn't been any good since Webber and Vlade left. I think he'd drop those habits fast in a better environment.

  • IBleedGreen

    Little off topic but I just realized that OJ Mayo's salary is only 4 million, while we're paying Jeff Green 9 million. Wow. Didn't we have a chance to go after Mayo involving Ray Allen a couple seasons ago?

    • The Cardinal

      I read recently that Mayo didn't want to come to Boston last season because there was no guarantee he would start with the emergence of Bradley. I've made peace with Jeff Green signing and can only hope that he'll be worth it.

      The guy that was on my "give the knucklehead a chance" wish list this summer was Andre Blatche, but I have no idea if the C's or Blatche were interested.

      What really annoys me about the way the team was built is that there were a few big men out there who really could have helped this team, but we spent $9 million on Green, $7 million on Bass, pick up Barbosa (a steal!) for the league minimum after signing Lee for $6 million, and I believe we only have the biannual exception or a minimum contract left to offer. How do you do that? After having substantial money available for the first time in ages, we became enthralled with keeping our own mediocre free agents at inflated prices (thank goodness we couldn't re-sign Ray for $6 million/year – on this team, he would never get the looks he does with Miami, and we'd be ready to trade him again!).

      I've watched all 25 games this season, and defensively with out front line, it's Groundhog Day. Even in some of the games we've won, it's despite the lack of a lengthy, defensive presence in the middlewith the second unit.

    • dslack

      Yes, there was a trade lined up that went almost all the way through at the trade deadline. That's probably a big part of the reason Ray decided to leave.

      Green's 9 million couldn't have been used on Mayo though. Terry was the one who was signed with the MLE.

      • Jonathan

        we could have signed mayo instead of Lee though. He was brought in on a sign and trade deal

  • janos

    hi Ryan is Janos
    is it your content Rondos make a succeed ths new arrange for team ; is suit for him or no?

  • High Rollers

    Looks like guys are going to have about two weeks to follow the successful business model of Mr. Avery Bradley, whose defense and off-the-ball activity have secured his employment with the C's for the near future.

    As the saying goes, get on board or get left behind.

    If Danny finds a good pick-up, great. But I'm glad these guys get a chance to play with Bradley for a January spell and see what life would be like if they played the right way and did their jobs every single night. It could be a very happy, Gino-filled life indeed.

    I wonder if this apparent and somewhat abrupt message from Danny and Doc is more about realizing that the playoffs aren't the problem; it's having a group that won't sabotage (unintentionally of course) the playoffs with a stinker of a regular season. The tread on the tires needs that business to stop and fast. (Man, who else is already getting goosebumps envisioning P/Ticket/9/Bradley/Jet out there in May? Hoowa! That's some small ball I could really go for. Please God get them plenty of good health and rest and reps.)

  • GowGow

    I think the main problem is that Doc's system is too rigid, let me explain.

    I have seen Lee, Sullinger, Bass and even Green pass on shots that if they were in any other team they wouldn't be afraid to take. The Cs system right now isn't as flexible as they should be considering that they added many new faces and are looking for who's going to step up.

  • Banner 18

    Recently read some serious rumors about bringing in Gortat or Varejao. Asinine, I believe Varejao is one of the most overrated players in the league. Yes, he is having a good first QUARTER of the season on sub par team, at best. Similar to Big Baby playing well this season, they both play big roles on losing teams. In other words, any average NBA player with a large role can play well on a non-playoff contending team. Also, I want no part of his injury prone, overpaid contract (cue the Jeff Green comments). As for Gortat, what do we think? Is he worth a pair out of the Avery, Sully, Fab, Barbosa, 1st round pick pool?

    • The Cardinal

      No. But make it Lee and Bass and a first rounder, and I'm sold.

  • OlSkool

    If the Celtics are going to make a meaningful trade then they're gonna have to give up either Bradley or Sullinger in the trade package. Talented, Young, and Cheap. Unless Ainge finds a sucker he won't get anything worth while unless he includes one of those two players.

  • Jonathan

    has anyone else thought of a trade for Stoudemire? Green+Bass+Melo+Lee+Picks for Stoudemire+White? apparently, knicks offered him to pretty much every team this offseason.

    • Josh_5

      Amare doesn't play any D and he's always hurt.

  • IBleedGreen

    Bradley + Sullinger + Bass+ draft picks for Pau Gasol

    • Vince

      You must be a Laker fan.

  • fabbzz

    I think the best we could get is milsap or jefferson. But we would likely have to give up bradley and picks, maybe sully to.

    I would love milsap on this team but I think the jazz would want rondo, so it seems unlikely.

    Another idea is Ilyasova. Although he is having a terrible year so far in Milwaukee, he showed flashes of a good player. And perhaps, since the Bucks are loaded up on big men, they would be willing to make the bad contract swap of green for ilyasova, perhaps if we also give up picks and sully. Maybe we can even pull one of their many young athletic potential guys like harris or henson.

  • Johno

    Excellent posts. I think Danny dropped the ball by not pursuing chandler jones when he was a free agent two years ago. His name wasn t even mentioned

  • http://www.slideshare.net/CONVOCCOLOCALISATION/convocco-localisation-review convocco

    Yes, Danny dropped out the ball.Please update me about the complete information.It helps me a lot to understand the things.thanks for share the great info

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