We’ve had 36 hours to cool down since the Celtics latest regression to the mean, after a blowout loss to the Pistons Sunday night. Doc Rivers had a pointed message for his locker room after that debacle: “Get better or we’ll be getting you out of here.” It was probably well warranted, given how much frustration Rivers has had to endure with this relatively healthy veteran squad playing far below their means.
There is another player in this equation however, and that’s President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge. In today’s Boston Herald, Steve Bulpett caught up with the C’s top boss, who tried to tone down Doc’s outburst from Sunday night.
“Realistically, I don’t see major changes coming…Of course we’re trying to get better, and any deal that was available that could help us, you obviously do that. But we’re not just trying to make any deal. We’re not selling the team off or anything like that. We’re trying to win with what we have right now. That’s got to be our first objective.”
“It’s a different guy each possession sometimes. As you watch the film of the game, it’s a different guy. It’s not like there’s one guy who’s not playing hard. On all these plays, there will be like one guy who’s just not trusting the assignments or who’s taking a shortcut. That’s just not what it takes to win, and our expectations are higher.
“Sometimes we just don’t play like a team where winning is the most important thing.”
Sadly, those last few sentences describe the heart of the issue right now for this team. Early on this year, it was the bench that was underperforming and the veteran starters like Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo playing well or exceeding expectations. As bench players like Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger have come into their own, Garnett and Pierce have expectedly regressed. On nights that Jeff Green has a standout half on the offensive end, you have Rondo turning the ball over nine times to counteract that. Some veterans have just remained in a slump for a disturbing length of time (Jason Terry, Brandon Bass) with few signs of snapping out of it
There were a few games within the six-game winning streak when it appeared everyone on the roster was firing on all cylinders, or at least pretty close to it, but having that luxury for Doc appears to be more the exception, rather than the rule this season. Anecdotes like this from Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe also don’t help.
The locker room has become a playhouse after games, with players brushing off difficult losses like Boston snowflakes…Rondo is attempting to become a leader, but his teammates have to view him as one. They can’t view him as just a buddy. He has been handled the mantle and he absolutely has to begin holding his teammates more accountable and demand that they take their jobs more seriously. He has rid the locker room of the “I’m not worried, we have another game tomorrow” attitude.
No matter how you dissect the issues here, the fact of the matter remains that making deals is not an ideal situation for this team as currently constructed. If they move players, they’ll be trading low on them and the return probably won’t be as talented as said player(s), since nearly all of the C’s trade chips are locked up on less than favorable (at this point) long-term deals.
Still, it’s been nearly half a season now with no consistent sign of progress. Six-game win streaks mean little when your coach felt like you stunk for half of the games during that streak, and then you follow those games up with another three-game slide. This week’s slate will be telling to see how the team responds to a desperate plea from Doc with a challenging lineup awaiting (New York, Atlanta, Miami) after a trip to Cleveland tonight. Anything less than 2-2 over that stretch and these trade whispers won’t be going away.